After just 11 weeks on the job, Mario Allen is no longer the head football coach at Rockdale High.
Allen was let go from his coaching duties after an investigation discovered possible recruiting and illegal practice violations.
According to Rockdale County Public School’s investigation records obtained by The News by an Open Records request, a player from Allen’s previous school, Columbia High, participated both on the field and in the weight room with the RCHS football team.
Georgia High School Association bylaws define recruiting and undue influence as the use of influence by any person connected directly or indirectly with a GHSA school to induce a student of any age to transfer from one school to another.
According to RCPS’s Coordinator of Student Affairs Andra Cherry’s report, Allen acknowledged that he provided a Columbia High student a ride to RCHS and that his mother knew he was going and was considering moving to Rockdale County.
Witnesses including Allen, assistant coach Michael Etheridge II, assistant coach Robert Bankston and Athletic Director Jerrid Harris admitted to seeing the Columbia High student on campus.
According to the report, Harris gave a statement, unconfirmed by other witnesses interviewed, that “a young man approached me and said that he wanted to introduce himself to me by the request of Coach Allen. I asked him if he was planning to attend Rockdale. He said that he was planning to do that. I asked him if they were planning on moving into the district. He replied no, and that his brother was still going to go to Columbia, and that Coach Allen would give him an address.”
Rockdale High principal Georgi Nour told the investigators that Allen came to her saying he had someone that needed a job “as a custodian, cafeteria worker or anything” because she had a son who would come to school at Rockdale.
Allen said that the player, who told student witnesses he would be attending RCHS and was a quarterback, participated in drills on the football field and in the weight room.
Earlier in the process Allen denied these claims.
“It was later told to me that the young man jumped into a few drills but I wasn’t aware that this ever happened until Mrs. Nour mentioned it to me weeks later,” Allen said in a witness statement. “I never once made a promises (sic) to this young man about anything related to football or his mom about giving them an dress or promising him a starting position on the Rockdale County high school football team.”
Rockdale High is already red flagged by the GHSA for allowing an ineligible volleyball player to participate in that sport last year.
Adding to suspicions of recruiting on the football team is that fact that the word “Recruit” was written on a board during a coaches’ meeting.
In the investigation, Allen said that he was referring to “students within the building and students that he or others learned were attending other schools or school districts that (students) resided within the RCHS school zone.”
Assistant coaches confirmed that the word “Recruit” was written on the board. Allen’s other suspected violation, illegal practices, was confirmed by witness statements and video.
GHSA bylaws define a practice as illegal if it involves three or more students participating in any extracurricular activity in the presence of, or under the direct or indirect supervision of any coach of the school. The bylaws go on to state that any practice occurring after the end of the season for that team and the end of the school year for students in that school is an illegal practice.
Allen told investigators that footballs were used for directional drills, and an assistant said that they taught the team how to get into offensive and defensive huddles and breaking to the line. There is reportedly video footage depicting the students going through huddles and breaking the huddle into formations.
The report also indicated that Allen is under a possible investigation being conducted by the DeKalb County School System concerning finances, in regards to funds and property reportedly stolen from his and other coaches’ offices.
Finances came up at Rockdale as well, as Nour and Harris said Allen allowed equipment to be shipped to Riddell (a helmet manufacturer) and the school was billed for over $11,000 for the equipment.
Harris said that he showed Allen the existing equipment (helmets, pads and uniforms) and told him that the previous coach Michael Etheridge had spoken with the supplier and it had been cleared through spring practice. According to Harris’ statement a couple weeks later a Riddell representative showed up at the school, throwing away 26 helmets, which were replaced by helmets of a different color.
In his statement Allen denied many of the claims against him and went on to say the reason he was being asked to leave was race.
“I have yet to be given a valid reason behind why Mrs. Nour rescinded her offer to me but I strongly feel that the coaches, that she told me to retain have plotted, sabatoged myself and the Rockdale County High School program because they did not want a black head football coach,” Allen said in his witness statement. “This issue is deeper than just a position as a coach/teacher in the Rockdale County Schools System. This is clearing (sic) a case that I have been discriminated against because of the color of my skin or my origin.”
Rockdale County administrators conducted two meetings with parents and supporters of the football program in the last week. The first was on April 19 and the second Thursday to discuss the school’s course of action.
According to a parent who attended Thursday night’s meeting, those conducting it expressed some possible violations Allen committed while at RCHS.
“There were some concerns for ethics violations where he brought in a child on the field during practices,” parent Valencia Smith-Bundrage said. “They said they have him on camera violating some of these ethics.”
Among those attending Thursday’s meeting, said to be less chaotic than the first, were Principal Nour, Rockdale County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Gene Baker and Rockdale football coaches.
The meeting explained the process of Rockdale’s second coaching search in six months. The school will again use a rubric to whittle down the alleged 100 applications it has received since the job was said to be posted on Monday. Parents attending the meeting were surprised that Allen was no longer with the team after such a short tenure.
Parents went on to say Allen instilled pride in his players, who seemed to relate more to the coach than under past administrations.
“He talked to the kids; he didn’t just fuss at them,” Smith-Bundrage said. “He gave them some encouragement. His demeanor was different.”
Despite the sudden change, those around the program seem supportive of the school’s working through the current situation.
“I think they received the news quite well,” said RCHS Football Booster Club treasurer Sonia Neal concerning the mood of parents and players. “They’re open-minded.”
Michelle Kim contributed to this report.