Tenn. high school football coach resigns after vandalism stunt

A botched attempt to fire up a Tennessee high school football team has forced out the head coach and his three assistants — two of whom are accused of vandalizing their own field house, and the third, who authorities say broke into a rival school to steal the opponent's playbook.

Marion County Schools superintendent Mark Griffith confirmed Wednesday that head coach Mac McCurry resigned during a meeting with Griffith and the school principal. McCurry also resigned from his job as a physical education teacher.

"Mr. McCurry felt it was in his best interest to separate himself from the situation and he resigned," said Griffith, who added that McCurry might have faced firing if he had not resigned.

"This is truly a shocking and tragic event ... very troubling," Griffith said.

On Nov. 1, administrators arrived to see the Marion County field house defaced before its District 2-A championship game against South Pittsburg, which ended up winning, 35-17. Officials said vulgarities were painted on side doors and the backside of the field house in South Pittsburg's colors, orange and black. Officials estimated the damage totaled several thousand dollars.

Assistant coach Michael Schmitt was arrested last week on a charge of vandalism of $1,000 to $10,000, and assistant Joe D. Gudger was arrested Tuesday on the same charge, according to the Marion County Circuit Court clerk's office. Gudger also has been charged with unlawful possession of alcohol on school grounds.

The Associated Press was unable to immediately find phone numbers for Gudger or Schmitt. The AP could not determine if they have lawyers.

Later Tuesday, assistant Tim Starkey was relieved of his coaching duties after it was learned through text message records that he had broken into the field house of cross-town rival South Pittsburg and stolen play sheets and game plans in the week before the game, officials said.

Authorities have not said whether Starkey faces charges, but Griffith said he is being investigated. The Jasper Police Department and Marion County Sheriff's Office did not immediately return a call to The Associated Press.

Following Schmitt's arrest, county investigators say they pulled his cellphone records and discovered conversations between Schmitt and other coaches discussing painting the field house and making it look like supporters of South Pittsburg, a school of about 360 students, were the culprits, officials have said.

Officers involved in the arrest have said the vandalism was an attempt to inspire the Marion County team, which is scheduled to compete in a playoff game this Friday. Four assistants remain on the coaching staff, and a search is beginning for a new head coach and physical education teacher for the high school, Griffith said.

Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said the organization is monitoring the situation and has spoken with officials at the high school and school district. He said any penalties would come only after the investigation is finished.

"We're going to let the criminal investigation and the justice system work it out first," Gillespie said.