Coach accused of punching player returns to teaching after investigation

Highland Park (N.J.) football coach Rich McGlynn returned to work today as a tenured physical education teacher in the district after being suspended with pay for two months while the school board investigated allegations he physically and verbally abused players.

“I know he’s glad to be back at work,” said McGlynn’s attorney, Edward Cridge, who previously told the allegations against his client, the most serious of which included punching a student in the face, “are comprehensively denied,” and that McGlynn would “be vindicated at the conclusion of this process.”

McGlynn could not be immediately reached and Cridge, who said he has yet to receive a written report of the school board’s investigation, declined further comment.

“Upon becoming aware of the allegations, the board retained outside counsel to conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation,” Highland Park Public Schools Superintendent Scott Taylor said in a prepared statement. “At this time, the board continues to review its options with respect to personnel decisions in this matter.”

Citing a personnel matter, Taylor could not comment beyond his prepared statement and did not disclose any findings of the investigation, thus it is unclear what disciplinary action, if any, the district may have taken or may take against McGlynn, or if he has resumed his coaching responsibilities.

The district has not posted a football coaching vacancy on its website. McGlynn owns a 47-66 record during 11 seasons and in 2016 was named Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division Coach of the Year.

An investigation commenced after four students from the high school, three of whom are former football players, made the allegations of physical and verbal abuse during the public comment portion of a Nov. 20 school board meeting. The students identified themselves before addressing the board, but is withholding their names because the students are believed to be minors.

In addition to punching a student in the face and leaving him with a black eye, McGlynn is alleged to have:

  • Constantly cursed and used offensive language on and off the field.
  • Thrown a chair in the direction of a player who arrived late for a game.
  • Grabbed players by their face masks and smacked their helmets together.
  • Cost a student-athlete his job when that player was fired for arriving late to work after McGlynn kept the student too long at practice.

McGlynn, who was not allowed to coach in Highland Park’s 2017 season finale against Metuchen on Thanksgiving Day, was suspended with pay from his teaching position beginning on Nov. 21, around the time the school board initiated its investigation.

The four students who made the allegations presented on Nov. 20 to the board a petition, which more than 80 of their Highland Park classmates allegedly signed, asking the district to investigate McGlynn’s conduct because, the students said, repeated attempts to have Taylor and high school principal Michael Lassiter look into the allegations were unsuccessful. School board president Darcie Cimarusti told the four students the board can’t discuss personnel matters in public, but the board was “listening and hearing” their concerns.

Several of McGlynn’s current and former players, along with their parents, spoke on McGlynn’s behalf during the public comment portion of a school board meeting last month, telling board members they believe the allegations against McGlynn are false and vouching for the veteran mentor’s character.

Asked if he believed the allegations regarding McGlynn’s conduct were true, senior Kyle Hagin, a four-year letterwinner interviewed with parental permission and in the presence of his mother, told “absolutely not.”

“I’ve been with McGlynn for four years now,” said Hagin, adding he has known McGlynn since middle school. “He never to me has been abusive in any of those years, and I’ve never seen him be abusive to anyone else. Knowing him, he wouldn’t be abusive to anyone else. It’s not in his personality. I know (McGlynn) is a good person.”

Hagin said he believed “everybody on the football team currently does not believe the allegations” and that hearing of them “made me mad.”

Robyn Decicco, the mother of a Highland Park player, said during the public comment portion of the Nov. 20 school board meeting that her son, who is now a junior, suffered a concussion while playing football as a freshman. When her son missed a subsequent practice, Decicco said McGlynn told her son that being concussed was no excuse.

“Obviously, he’s not looking out for the well-being” of student-athletes, Decicco alleged, adding she attempted to have school officials investigate McGlynn’s conduct. “I spoke to the administration. They didn’t say anything. They just let it go. I really hope somebody does something.”

Lorraine Poku, the mother of a Highland Park student, told the school board McGlynn “harassed” her son to play football.

“I have told my son numerous times tell (McGlynn) I said no,” Poku said. “If (McGlynn) approaches him one more time — and this will be the last time— (McGlynn) will not hear a very good no from me.”

A program with a rich and storied tradition that dates back to the 1930s, Highland Park, whose roster in recent years has averaged around 35 players, struggled to field a team in 2017 and ended the year winless for the first time in 80 years.

The Owls forfeited their opener to Bishop Ahr due to limited manpower and played their finale against against Metuchen with 17 players.

“We are just trying to survive,” McGlynn told earlier this year. “I feel if we can find a way to make it through the season, that would be an unbelievable accomplishment.”

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