Photo at left — Eisenhower Coach Curtis Graham (at far right) walks onto the field with some of his players before a game
By J. Thomas McNamara
Less than 10 months after the Eisenhower administration introduced Curtis Graham as the Panthers football head coach in February, the same administration has indicated they will not rehire him. Neither Eisenhower Principal Amy Zahm nor Athletic Director Steve Thompson responded to our written requests for comments on their decision not to rehire him, asking that he either resign or that he would be fired.
Graham showed a lot of class in discussing the school’s decision, saying he is disappointed that they gave him only a year to rebuild the program that he was hired to do. “I’m pretty upset about it,” said Graham in our telephone conversation late Friday afternoon. “They didn’t talk to the kids or the Eisenhower football community. They felt, for one reason or another, I was a liability.”
He strongly believes he was dealt “a bad hand” and “not given room to improve.”
His Panthers went 0-9 this season, but that was somewhat expected given the numbers and talent he was inheriting from Drew Wagers team, who went 1-8 the year before.
Despite their winless season, Graham always spoke positively about his players throughout the season with this newspaper in his weekly reviews of the previous night’s games and the previews of their next. He never blamed his players for losses. His successor, whoever that is, will reap the benefits of what the outgoing coach sowed with the youth he had on the field late in the season where a freshman quarterback Brylan Phillips was leading the team and throwing to talented underclassmen receivers.
“A coach is not going to appease everyone,” said Graham, adding, “I ran a fair program and treated everyone equally, not favoring anyone over anyone else.
“I didn’t come here to fail,” continued the head coach in his interview with the Decatur Tribune. He’s taking the high ground because he wants to continue coaching somewhere and indicated he will return to his East St. Louis home where he played. He also expressed that he may take a year off to review his various options. He and his wife are expecting a child in a couple of months.
It also didn’t help him to succeed when the District 61 administration did not improve conditions at Alexander Field until late in the season which allowed them to play only two home games there. And those improvements came after this newspaper ran pictures and story about the field’s deteriorating conditions that resulted from the renovation of the high school years ago. The district has hired an outside group to study the situation and recommend solutions which Superintendent Paul Fregeau has indicated in the past that legal action may be the only recourse which neither he nor the district want to take.
This has been a difficult year off the field for him personally as he lost his grandmother earlier in the year which left him with no surviving members of his family.
His ouster is certain to be a topic of conversation at this week’s 49th annual Team Soy tournament sessions since Eisenhower is the host school this year as the two, MacArthur and it, rotates each November.
I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.