Doug Laker only has one question. Why?
After 129 wins in nine seasons as Greenfield-Central’s varsity girls basketball coach and seven winning campaigns, including a school-record 23 victories two years ago, Laker used the same word repeatedly followed by a bewildered sigh during a phone interview this week.
Why? Good question. One without a definitive answer as rumors continue to swirl around the Cougars’ girls basketball program’s future and its headstrong coach, who has a résumé that most schools would covet.
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“I just want to know,” Laker said. “I just want to coach basketball.”
According to Laker, the Greenfield-Central Schools Corporation doesn’t feel the same anymore, though administrators refuse to say either way, more inclined to hide in soothing neutrality.
They were more direct behind closed doors last week, however, Laker said, in a meeting between himself, Greenfield-Central athletics director Jared Manning and Greenfield-Central principal Steve Bryant.
The conversation ended with two choices for Laker: resign or be fired.
The deadline to make his decision was April 1, but this was no joke as much as Laker hoped before the actuality of the ultimatum burrowed deep.
After eight seasons of progressive success and numerous positive year-end evaluations, Laker emphasized, the administration changed it’s mind. Their reasoning, the head coach said, was he was “too mean” to his players this year.
“Obviously, we are in that time period of winter coaches evaluations and we are working on making recommendations for our school board for the April and May meeting (on April 10),” Manning remarked on the situation. “We meet with each one of our coaches through that evaluation process. I’m not going to talk about any personnel issues or anything like that, but that’s the process.”
According to Laker, a lay coach, who says he hasn’t been observed by Manning more than once in three years, his refusal to resign and potential termination or the non-renewal of his coaching contract on April 10 centers around three speculative charges.
First, he didn’t wear enough Greenfield-Central apparel. Second, the administration has been informed he told his players “you can’t be JV your whole life, you have to make a play in the 7:30 (varsity) game.”
The third, parents alerted the administration that Laker used what Manning and Bryant allegedly called degrading language when the head coach expressed to his players, they shouldn’t “p— yourself when someone gets into you” on the court.
By his own admission, Laker knows he can be abrasive, but vulgar or demeaning is not in his character or intention. A Type-A personality to his core, Laker demands the best and his players have in turn expected the same from themselves — and respect their coach for it.
The results have shown exactly how the give-and-take relationship works.
Since Laker took over the program in 2008-09, the team has averaged 14 wins a season and have put together four consecutive winning years with a record-setting performance in 2015-16.
With Laker at the helm, the Cougars won their first sectional title in 12 years in 2016 and reached the sectional finals this past postseason behind nationally-ranked senior Madison Wise, an Iowa State signee.
The first Indiana All-Star for the program since Janet Meeker in 1989 and a finalist for the 2016-17 Indiana Miss Basketball award, Wise credits Laker for her development. Not out of fear but respect and gratitude for making her earn what she’s accomplished.
Her parents, Kent and Lynn, share their daughter’s assessment. “That’s coaching,” Kent Wise remarked. “Doug nor the coaching staff as a whole have ever received any verbal or written concerns of any kind from the administration.”
If there were problems, logic tells most someone as prominent as Madison Wise would have stood up and spoke out.
Instead, she, along with her parents and many other players and their families intend to support their beloved head coach this week at individual meetings with Bryant and Manning.
Letters applauding Laker’s coaching ability and professionalism continue to mount while an opposing faction has arguably pinned the ears of the administration.
In an email from Iowa State women’s head coach Bill Fennelly, he wrote, “My staff and I saw many practices and games during the recruiting process (of Madison). We all agreed that coach Laker did a great job with his team … demanded that the players give their best effort on and off the court and I think that is why the GCHS program is respected by so many.
“I have coached college basketball for 40 years and I truly believe we need more coaches like coach Laker, not less. Coaches who focus on developing young people in every way and helping them prepare for what is ahead in their lives.”
The administration won’t quite say the same, at least not publicly.
“In terms of wins and losses we’ve done very well the past four years in particular. We’ve been very fortunate to have a strong group of athletes and good coaching staff in terms of assistants as well as coach Laker,” Greenfield-Central Schools superintendent Dr. Harold Olin said. “Exemplary? I would not say exemplary. Certainly excited to have a sectional championship last year.”
Laker’s credentials aren’t far off from exemplary. An assistant athletic director at Greenfield-Central for more than eight years before resigning a few years prior, Laker is currently the winningest coach in Greenfield-Central history, both boys and girls.
In 2016, he was honored by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association as a Coach of the Year. He was named IIAA middle school athletic director of the year in 2014, a two-time Hoosier Heritage and Hancock County coach of the year and served as an Indiana Junior All-Star coach in 2015.
He’s regarded highly by his peers and by college coaches across the state and nation and has represented the community, the school and the program as a basketball committee representative with the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association.
In a time when it’s common to read disturbing news reports about a coach charged with sexual misconduct, abuse and crossing ethical lines, Laker represents the contrary. He’s passionate. He cares. Maybe too much.
He’s animated on the sidelines, no question. He’s not afraid to wear his emotions, argue a call or shed tears when he sees his girls fail despite their best efforts. He rallies for them, offers a trusting ear and wants them to thrive as people — not just basketball players.
“Sometimes you do everything the right way and people just don’t like what you do,” Laker said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.
“I think I’ve gotten better every year, and there wasn’t anything different this year, just a lot more injuries. What all changed? I don’t understand.”
That’s the big question many are asking both Bryant and Manning this week. And it will be brought up at the school board meeting on April 10 when oddly enough the girls team will be honored during the board’s Celebrate Excellence Program for winning the Hall of Fame Classic Tournament last December.
“We have a winning tradition in basketball. When you average 14 wins a year that’s pretty good,” Laker said. “When your kids play hard and the way they perform and aren’t trouble makers, they’re just great kids, that’s even better. That’s what I’m most proud of. I’m proud of my kids. The adults they are becoming.”