Pompey calls wrong play in seeking old job

August 19, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

When the Baltimore state's attorney's office announced two weeks ago that it would not press criminal charges against Pete Pompey, it said that its 13-month investigation had uncovered "a pattern and practice of undocumented expenditures, poor management and an avoidance of accountability."

When Baltimore schools superintendent Walter Amprey said several days later that Pompey probably would not return to his job as basketball coach, football coach and athletic director at Dunbar, but instead would start over at another school, he cited "inappropriate behaviors, poor judgment and not handling funds properly" as his reasoning. Oh, and "plenty of violations of our policies," too.

In other words, Pompey has a lot of guts going around pressuring Amprey to give him his old job back.

As that thunderstorm of condemnation demonstrates, Pompey's record as an administrator at Dunbar was not good. Let's go through some of it again. Policy violations. Inappropriate behavior. Poor judgment. Even though he was not charged criminally, his books smelled funny. Why should he be rewarded for all of that with the top coaching job in the city?

He had it. He lost it. What has he done to deserve getting it back? If he were just one of two dozen applicants, he'd have no shot. His record at his last job would kill his chances.

Pompey and his supporters insist he deserves the job because he was not found guilty of criminal wrongdoing. That's a lame argument. You don't have to commit a crime to do your job poorly. Pompey did his poorly. He was a good coach but a less-than-perfect bookkeeper. He is lucky he still has a job. To try to bully his way back into his old one, whipping the community into a frenzy in the process, is shameless and selfish.

That is not to say he is entirely to blame for the noisy controversy that has erupted. Amprey contributed significantly to it. He recently told The Sun's Lem Satterfield that he had planned to transfer Pompey to another school before the investigation began last year. If that is true, why did the start of the investigation stop him? Amprey should have said then that Pompey wasn't coming back, period, and hired a new coach and athletic director.

Instead, he hired interims and let the situation fester for more than a year, creating a tense atmosphere at Dunbar. This time a year ago, Pompey supporters were trying to get football players to boycott practice. Nice. The juniors and seniors at Dunbar are the real losers in this thing. They've had to live in an uncertain environment for more than a year because Amprey acted indecisively. The grown-ups, as usual, are the problem.

There was no doubt Pompey would try to get his job back when the state's attorney's office dropped its investigation. The job was available, for starters. And you will notice no one can say precisely what Pompey did wrong. Everyone's statements are vague. At this point, anyone who tries to accuse him of specific wrongdoing will get sued in five seconds. Fact is, we'll never know what happened.

No doubt, this is a complicated situation. Being a coach at a city school is tough. There are lots of kids lacking the money even for basic materials. A coach with a heart is always digging into his pocket and maybe reimbursing himself later. Bookkeeping can get vague.

Still, that doesn't excuse Pompey's performance as the athletic director at Dunbar. "Violation of policies" and "inappropriate behavior" and "avoidance of accountability." The latter is a fine message coming from a teacher, huh?

But, hey, Pompey is a longtime employee of the school system, and everyone makes mistakes. Amprey's instincts were right when he said he was inclined to give Pompey a fresh start at another school. No one gets hurt. It's just too complicated with him at Dunbar. There are too many factions and adult egos in the mix, and the kids are getting squeezed in the middle.

But now Amprey is waffling because Pompey and the Dunbar community are stirred up to the point of picketing in front of the city school administration building. As if there aren't a hundred more important things about which to picket.

Pompey's supporters say they're lobbying on behalf of the Dunbar kids, which is hogwash. Dunbar will win no matter who is the coach. The basketball team benefits from having an open enrollment plan that enables it to get top players from all over the city, as opposed to other schools with limited districts. The deck is stacked.

No, Pompey and his supporters are lobbying because Pompey wants his high-profile job. Coaching at Mervo doesn't compare.

Amprey has a decision to make. He might make it as soon as today. He should stick with his original instincts. Transfer Pompey. Give Dunbar a fresh start. No, the world won't end if Pompey gets the job again. His kids like him. He's a good coach. But, given the reviews of his last tenure, he doesn't deserve the chance.

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