Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Doerger on quest for redemption

        Jerry Doerger seeks the ability to accept the things he cannot change. He also wants his job back.

        The deposed basketball coach of the McNicholas Rockets spoke to the school Tuesday via its public-address system. He recited the serenity prayer. He reserved the right to appeal.

        “I want to do everything I can possibly do to save my job,” Doerger said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel very strongly that the punishment didn't fit the crime. There was no crime. I didn't do anything I would call extremely bad or evil.”

        Some of the specific details of what Doerger did are in dispute, but the general gist is that he protested too much. During and after a March 9 loss to Dayton Christian in the Division II district championship game, Doerger's disputes with the referees were frequent, heated and public.

        Frustrated by what he considered lax goaltending enforcement, Doerger assailed officials Jon Sagers and Jon Warden from the bench, after the final buzzer, during his postgame press conference and ultimately in an angry exchange in the stands at the University of Dayton Arena.

        The story appeared in the March 10 Enquirer, on the same page that proclaimed Warden's daughter, Haley, the LaRosa's Athlete of the Week. The livid officials responded with letters to state administrators, letters later forwarded to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

        “We're trying to educate children in our Catholic schools to teach other people with dignity,” said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese. “We try to reenforce respect for others as a hallmark of our mission. ... There's a line, and he (Doerger) crossed it.”

        Responding to the officials' complaints, and its own sense of propriety, the archdiocese decided last week that Doerger could not be offered a contract to coach next season. After 34 years in the Greater Catholic League — nine at Moeller, 25 at McNick — Doerger was directed to the door. He was Cincinnati's winningest active coach on the day of his dismissal and now ranks among its most forlorn figures — a basketball bachelor distanced from his true love.

        Doerger's punishment does not preclude him from teaching or continuing as a counselor at McNicholas, and he already has had a coaching feeler from another school. Still, he had hoped to retire when his current freshmen are seniors.

        “I felt very odd walking around today,” he said. “It was very hectic, and I was stunned and embarrassed. I apologized for anything I've done to hurt McNicholas High School or the archdiocese. But I'm not ashamed by what I've done. What motivated me was my love of McNicholas, my love of excellence and my love for my basketball players.”

        Good motives don't excuse bad behavior. Coaches who work in church schools should expect to be held to a higher standard than, say, Bobby Knight. Doerger may be too set in his ways to change them.

        Whether he can change the archdiocese's decision is doubtful. Because he has no plans (and probably no grounds) to sue, Doerger's most promising path is mediation — the archdiocesan answer to due process.

        If Doerger cannot resolve the dispute to his satisfaction, he can have it heard by a three-member panel. The panel's recommendations to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk are not binding but often are obeyed.

        “Right now I'm hoping there's a slight crack maybe,” Doerger said. “I don't want to go out this way.”


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