Football coach Eric Kasperowicz: ‘No bullying or hazing took place’ at Pine-Richland

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Thursday, April 15, 2021 | 10:18 AM


A day after being fired, former Pine-Richland football coach Eric Kasperowicz pushed back against any allegation of hazing or bullying in his program, while his assistants described a toxic relationship with the school’s administration.

The school district informed Kasperowicz on Wednesday his contract wouldn’t be renewed for a ninth season despite winning four WPIAL championships and two state titles. The decision to fire him came after school administrators spent recent weeks questioning current and former football players about alleged misconduct.

“I am disappointed by this decision and want to unequivocally state that no bullying or hazing took place in the Pine-Richland football program under my watch,” Kasperowicz said Thursday in a statement. “I never condoned any bullying or hazing. If I became aware of any such claims I met with the individuals and immediately put an end to it. I addressed and resolved these infrequent events over my eight-year tenure internally within the team. The players and coaches were made aware of my zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

“Certainly if bullying or hazing had occurred under my watch, I would have followed proper reporting procedures as I have always done throughout my professional career.”

Along with Kasperowicz, his assistants also spoke out Thursday in defense of their former football program. Among them was defensive line coach Jared Miller, whose son, Luke, is a senior. Miller said the coaching staff has had issues with the school’s administration for years.

“Eric did everything he was supposed to do,” Miller said. “For the past so many years, they’d nitpick about everything and want us to do it their way. We complied. We always did do it their way. But we always knew they had it out for us. They never really supported us in anything. In 2017 and 2020, we won a state championship and our superintendent and the assistant superintendent were nowhere to be found. You’d think you’d be on the field congratulating us.”

Quarterbacks coach Todd Jochem, whose son, Eli, is a senior, criticized the Pine-Richland administration in a lengthy social media post Thursday night.

“This is not a football problem,” Jochem said. “It’s not a sports problem. This is a power and control problem with some new and longtime senior administrators and the board members who enable them. They need to go.”

Among his examples, Jochem mentioned an encounter last fall with athletic director Sean Simmons, who, Jochem said, pointed at Kasperowicz and told him: “I don’t know why Mike Pasquinelli hates you.” Miller corroborated Simmons’ statement.

Pasquinelli is the school’s assistant superintendent.

“(In my opinion) administration is threatened by the success the football program has had and don’t want it to interfere or diminish academic achievements,” Jochem said. “It doesn’t seem like they understand that both can live together.”

Said Miller: “If you ask someone, ‘What do you know about Pine-Richland?’ Most would say football. (The administrators) don’t like that it’s about football. We’re very successful and people think of Eric Kasperowicz when you think of football. To me, it’s a power thing.”

The coaches received an email from school administrators Wednesday informing them Kasperowicz was being replaced and the assistants would be let go as well. Their dismissal came five months after winning WPIAL and PIAA titles with an undefeated record.

The Rams went 85-18 under Kasperowicz.

“The Pine-Richland School District does not comment on personnel matters,” according to a district spokesperson. “The Pine-Richland Athletic Department will be advertising for the position of varsity head football coach. The team has earned on-the-field success. The athletic department recognizes the time, energy and expertise invested by the entire coaching staff.”

Assistant principal T.J. Salopek and other school administrators met Thursday with returning members of the football team, junior Jeremiah Hasley said. Salopek was chosen Monday to become the school’s athletic director after Simmons leaves for Shady Side Academy this summer. Hasley said the administrators didn’t tell the team why the coaches were fired, saying the reasons were confidential.

“They just said we’re here every step of the way and trust the process,” Hasley said. “Know that this isn’t the end of Pine-Richland’s football program.”

Still, Hasley said, he and his teammates are understandably nervous about their future, not knowing who’ll coach the team this fall. They were left stunned by Wednesday’s decision.

“There was speculation about the investigation going on, but nobody really worried about it,” Hasley said. “But as soon as we heard (the coaches were fired), it was just a shock to us. We were all devastated. … Especially this junior class that’s going to be rising seniors.

“We want to go back to back. We knew with this coaching staff, they could put the group together and make it special again.”

Like Kasperowicz, his assistant coaches agreed that the team wasn’t engaged in hazing or bullying. Offensive coordinator Ryan Lehmeier, who has coached there since 2015, said he’s seen neither in his time with the team. He said nobody in the administration talked with him about any allegations.

“It would be speculation for me to tell you why (the administration) did what they did,” he said. “I have no idea. I got an email saying I was fired, saying they were not renewing our contracts. And that was pretty much it.”

Lehmeier’s ties with Kasperowicz go back more than a decade. Kasperowicz was an assistant coach at North Hills under Jack McCurry when Lehmeier, a 2006 graduate, was on the Indians roster.

“Aside from my mom and dad, nobody’s had a bigger influence on my life in a positive way,” Lehmeier said. “For this to happen to him the way it did, and for things to go down the way they did, I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody. If there’s anybody who doesn’t deserve this, it’s Eric Kasperowicz.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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