Aliquippa school board votes to open position of football coach Mike Zmijanac
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 7:36 PM
Mike Zmijanac listened quietly from the small auditorium's seats as a former player and several others asked the Aliquippa school board to let the hall of fame football coach have one more season.
"My coach, Mike Zmijanac, has taught me things that I can never thank him enough for," Matt Mottes, the former player, said during the public comments section of Wednesday's meeting. "Give the man his last year. I believe he's entitled to it. He's given 54 years of his life to this school district. The man bleeds red and black."
A short time later, the board ignored the pleas and voted 7-2 to replace Zmijanac, who has coached the football team for 21 seasons. Zmijanac owns a career record of 237-36 with six WPIAL titles and one state championship, but the board decided to open his job to applicants.
Zmijanac attended the meeting but didn't address the board.
"The school board should always do what they think is best for the school and the kids and the program," he said afterward. "That's obviously what they did."
Beyond that, Zmijanac said he couldn't explain the board's decision.
"You'll have to ask them," he said.
Zmijanac said he'll remain Aliquippa's athletic director until his contract expires June 30, a position the former teacher has held since 2000.
He has coached the football team since 1997 and reached the WPIAL finals 13 times, including the past 10 years in a row. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016.
Aliquippa superintendent Peter Carbone declined comment citing the district's policy on personnel issues. Board member Janice Cain, who voted with Nicole Bible to keep Zmijanac, also declined comment.
However, Ezra Lowe, who joined the board in November, said he voted to replace Zmijanac because the coach didn't adequately support his players beyond high school football season.
"What about the kids that are on the corner now from the football team?" Lowe said. "… You use them for your glory, for your self-edification. What about their future? When do they get rewarded?"
Lowe said Zmijanac wasn't fully invested in the college recruiting process, citing his son's experiences from the late-1990s, and insisted that Zmijanac didn't always distribute mail received from college coaches. But Lowe also expressed criticism that Zmijanac hadn't played high school football himself, and that the Quips had won only one state football championship during his tenure.
"It's been building for awhile," Lowe said of the board's decision. "Twenty-one years. Yeah, he's got a nice record, but he didn't play one down (to earn that record). He didn't run one touchdown. He didn't work out at none of the practices. He had all them (assistant) coaches who played in college, they were qualified to do it. He never played football. He never went to school for football. He didn't do any of that, but he gets all the credit by using our kids to get his record to 500 wins and say he's this great man.
"But that's only part of it. To deal with kids, you have to deal with their whole life. Spirit, soul, body. You've got to deal with their lifestyle, their home life, all of that, because these kids are working their butts off to make you look good. How do they get appreciated? By throwing their letters in the garbage?"
The six individuals who spoke during the public comment session told a different story.
"Twenty-one years in the football program, making sure your kids eat every day after school," said Mottes, the former player who's now chairman of the Aliquippa Water Authority. "Shoes. T-shirts. Jackets. You name it. If you go to that man, he made sure you had it."
Among those in the audience in support of Zmijanac were WPIAL administrator Jack Fullen, former Blackhawk football coach Joe Hamilton and Montour athletic director/football coach Lou Cerro.
John Giammarco, founder of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club, urged the board to keep Zmijanac.
"I can't come here and say anything more about the records that Coach Zmijanac has as a coach," Giammarco said. "They speak for themselves."
Giammarco then shared with the board how Zmijanac called him years ago to console him during a tragic time in his family's life.
"I don't know if everyone knows just what a treasure you have here," Giammarco said. "He's a great coach. He's a better person."
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .