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An Angry Joe Kinnan Retires from Manatee School District


BRADENTON – The Manatee County School District announced Thursday that former Manatee High School football coach and Athletic Director Joe Kinnan has submitted his request to retire from his current teaching position at Manatee High School. Mr. Kinnan personally delivered the request to district headquarters yesterday morning, two days after none of the three candidates he backed in school board races were able to secure victories.

“We thank Coach Kinnan for his 29 years of service to this school district and congratulate him on his Hall-of-Fame coaching career in which he led the Manatee Hurricanes football team to 290 victories, 27 district titles and five state championships,” said Superintendent Rick Mills in a release.

Kinnan has been revered as one of the all-time greatest coaches in Florida high school football history and an offensive innovator who pioneered schemes later made famous by some of the state's college football powerhouses.

The Manatee High alum was also a longtime athletic director at the school but ran afoul of the administration when a booster scandal took place within the Hurricane's baseball program. In March of this year, the school's athletic department was fined $13,300 and placed on probation by the Florida High School Athletic Association for policy violations. The school could have been facing over $300,000 in fines, but the governing body showed leniency for the district having self-reported the issues.

Coach Kinnan on the sideline in 2012

In late 2013, MCSD OPS Investigator Troy Pumphrey was handed an anonymous letter regarding the Manatee High School Baseball program, containing allegations that head coach Dwayne Strong “may have violated certain School Board and Florida State Statutes.” The letter, which turned out to be from the parents of a player on the team, described a pay-for-play system at The Sandlot @5-Tools Baseball, a skills camp owned and operated by Strong.

The accusations, which suggested that paid participation in the camp was made clear to be mandatory for students who hoped to see playing time, prompted a district investigation, which also found that Kinnan had allowed Strong to coach the previous season without proper state certification. The FHSAA report determined that Manatee's baseball program had violated 7 of its policies and that 19 students had broken rules by participating in camps and/or clinics. The penalty is a minimum of $2,500 per infraction, but was reduced to only $100 per student because the violations were self-reported by the district.

Most of the violations centered around mandatory practices and other activities at Strong's facility, which were also held outside of the designated season and improperly funded by the school through the team's booster club. Manatee's athletic department has been placed on administrative probation until June 1, 2015 and the baseball program until June 1, 2016.

Strong resigned last October, shortly after the issue came to light. The district investigation recommended that Kinnan be suspended for 10 days without pay and demoted until his already pending resignation as athletic director took place at the end of last school year, for being aware of Strong's lack of certification and the improper funding, as well as misleading district officials during the investigation.

Kinnan vehemently disputed the charges and requested an administrative hearing, which was scheduled for April, but never occurred, as Kinnan was on medical leave. The district also recommended that former assistant-superintendent Bob Gagnon, who was Manatee's principal at the time, be suspended for 10 days without pay for his role in the arrangement with Strong's business and the booster club, though Gagnon had already been suspended indefinitely.

In an article published by The Bradenton Herald on March 1, Kinnan was quoted as saying that he had received a letter from an MHS baseball player’s parent in early October containing information about potential district and FHSAA violations, and that he then made school principal Don Sauer aware the next day and stressed to him the need to report the information to the district and the FHSAA.

However, Pumphrey told TBT at the time that when he went to Sauer and Kinnan on October 1, 2013, after reviewing the letter, neither expressed recollection of hearing about any such wrongdoing associated with Strong or the baseball program, and told him it was the first time they had been made aware of such, and that it was Pumphrey who informed both men that the FHSAA would need to be notified.

Coach Kinnan being interviewed after winning the state

title at the Citrus Bowl in 2011.

Mills told TBT at the time that he was troubled by what he saw as Kinnan seeming to deliberately mislead the public about his role in the events. "I have concerns about what I'm reading in the papers," said Mills. "We're going to be looking into it."

Mills said Thursday that in light of Kinnan's retirement, the district would be be dropping the pending administrative complaint against him.

The incidents infuriated Kinnan, whose family has long been one of the most influential in the Manatee County public education system. Earlier this month, he held a press conference flanked by close friends, long-time Manatee High Football supporters and Bradenton City Councilmen Gene Gallo and Gene Brown, denouncing what he described as attacks on his character and integrity, while voicing his extreme dissatisfaction with the district's administration.

On August 22, Kinnan sent a mass email regarding the August 26 school board election, attacking the new administration and advocating that it was "time for a change and it starts with a new board and then perhaps a new superintendent." Kinnan wrote, "I’m not going to tell you how to vote or who you should vote for, but I will tell you who I’m voting for and I hope you follow. Please pass this on as it’s time to make a difference."

The email concluded with a screen shot of a sample ballot of the school board races with candidates Rodney Jones, Frank Brunner and Mary Cantrell circled. Brunner and Jones lost in landslides, and Cantrell finished behind Julie Aranibar in a four-candidate race, though the two will compete again in a November runoff.

Kinnan had already been replaced this spring as head coach of the school's football team by Hurricane Class of 2000 alum John Booth. That program was also tarnished in recent years when a sexual abuse scandal erupted after one of Kinnan's top assistants, Rod Frazier, who had also been employed in the school as a parent/teacher liaison, was accused of sexually abusing a 16-year old student at the school.

The investigation, which led to Frazier's arrest and a plea of no contest to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three counts of interfering with a school attendance, also shone a light on a school culture in which a coach in the building (Frazier) routinely pulled students, who were mostly described as his football players and young females, out of their classes to hang out in his office. Concerns over what other teachers and employees in the school reported as frequent and distressful behavior, such as Frazier hugging female students or them sitting on his lap in a school golf cart, were said to have been ignored.

While Kinnan was never implicated in the investigation (two administrators resigned including a school attorney and internal investigator), the fact that he was a teacher and AD on campus, in addition to head coach of the program while such a culture was occurring, led many to question how much he knew or suspected, and whether he was fit to be in an administrative position if he had in fact, been completely unaware.

Regardless of the tension between Kinnan, his supporters, the district and his detractors, the fact remains that his retirement marks the end of an era in Manatee County sports.


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