The Mora football program has been put on an “improvement plan” at the recommendation of school administrators following complaints of a coach’s behavior.
On Sept. 27, a petition was delivered to the Mora Public School board by concerned community members, including members of the Mora Youth Tackle Football League, regarding Mora football assistant coach Bryan Cook. Mora Youth Football is not a school district program overseen by the school.
Petitioners asked for Cook to be removed from participating in school football activities because they felt his behavior in practices and at public events was unprofessional. Petitioners described witnessing Cook having angry outbursts and cussing at youth games; they also questioned his coaching strategies.
Mora Youth Football coach Devin Wagner said he was, “embarrassed, disappointed and appalled” by Cook’s behavior during a fourth-grade football game on Sept. 8. Debbie Klapmeier also spoke to the school board and said Cook’s behavior showed a concerning trend, citing previous complaints including an incident in April 2017 when Cook broke up a fight between Mora students during gym class. A partial video of the incident went viral, drawing attention and criticism. The Kanabec County Attorney’s Office declined to file charges finding no criminal activity in the incident.
The Mora School Board responded to petitioners saying they would investigate the petitioners’ concerns.
The Aitkin thing
Another video of Cook’s behavior received a lot of attention just weeks after the petition was submitted. On Oct. 12, the Mora varsity football team traveled to Aitkin for a game. During the Aitkin team’s entrance onto the field which included flags and players running through a banner, a fan videoed as Cook walked directly through the line of processing Aitkin players.
Social media went wild with many who found Cook’s behavior unsportsmanlike; others blamed Aitkin for invading Mustang field space.
Parents made complaints to the Minnesota State High School League. The MSHSL found no violations and recommended no discipline for either the Mora or Aitkin teams.
Assistant Coach of the Year
On Saturday, Nov. 18, 2018, the Mora High School football program held its 2018 End of Year Awards Banquet. Cook was selected by his coaching peers to receive the Northeast Blue Sub District Assistant Coach of the Year award.
The Improvement Plan
After reviewing the issues brought up in the Sept. 27 petition, Mora school administrators including Head Football Coach Troy Erickson, Activities Director Kris Osterdyk and Superintendent Craig Schultz, determined that the events did not warrant disciplinary action; however, recommended a “Football Program Improvement Plan.”
For issues that do not rise to the level of disciplinary action, Mora Public School administration give staff members an “improvement plan.”
An improvement plan is a tool used to address issues of tardiness, teaching methods, bad language, etc. The plan sets a time frame, may require a class or training of some sort, and overall is a plan to remediate an issue. If the issue remains unresolved after further attempts, the individual may be terminated.
During the Jan. 24 Mora School Board meeting, because no disciplinary action was being taken the board agreed to allow school administration handle the matter of following the improvement plan.
After the decision, Board Chair Karen Kirchner emphasized that the board had high expectations for leaders of extracurricular activities.
“The board is all in favor of saying this [issue] is closed now and we’re moving ahead,” she said.
Superintendent Schultz said the improvement plan applies to all football coaches and volunteers, with some individual plans and requirements within the program plan.
“In the big picture,” Schultz wrote, “The bar/expectations of all coaches and volunteers in all sports is being raised/set.”
When asked by the Kanabec County Times, Bryan Cook did not comment on the issue, and deferred to head football coach Troy Erickson who said, “A tremendous amount of work goes into improving our football program at all levels throughout the off-season and this year will be no different.”