Direct Rays: Just or Unjust, PV Boys Hoops Coach Ouster Wreaks of Bad Timing

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There is probably nobody on this planet that has butted heads more with former Putnam Valley boys’ basketball Coach Ed Wallach than me: I reckon we’re just a pair of strong-willed alpha males who truly believe they are rarely wrong in their views. Love him, or not; the cat is set in his ways, but the results speak for themselves, which nobody can deny.

Former Putnam Valley High basketball Coach Ed Wallach (L) takes in his last moments as Tigers coach with PV girls’ Coach Aldo Redendo by his side.
Former Putnam Valley High basketball Coach Ed Wallach (L) takes in his last moments as Tigers coach with PV girls’ Coach Aldo Redendo by his side.

But one thing he and I can definitely agree upon is that after two years on the PV boys hoops scene, and one previously with the gals, Wallach got a raw deal last Thursday when he was informed by first-year PV Athletic Director Marty Nemecek that his services were no longer required at PV High after an 18-3 season, by far the best in school history. He didn’t get a raw deal because he got released; that was inevitable given his old-school methodology, which rubs the coddlers wrong. He got a raw deal because of the way it went down and the timing of the decision, if you ask me.

Wallach was told he “didn’t teach enough about basketball and didn’t teach drills and skills at practice” and that he that he didn’t quite provide his players with the appropriate skill development necessary to increase their basketball IQ or level of athleticism: This, despite taking the Tigers, to the Section 1 Class B Final 4 and winning a school record 18 games, including a pair of playoff games (PV had been winless in all previous playoff experiences).

“This Board of Education and I will always do what is in the best interest of our kids, academically and athletically, even if it means that our decisions may not be popular with everyone,” Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi and Nemecek said in a joint statement last Friday. “With that said, because this is a personnel decision, I cannot comment.”

Shocking! Twitter, Facebook and the Varsity Insider (LoHud) blog blew up late Thursday night when this scribe, with 41 years of association to the Town of Putnam Valley, broke the news to the fuming masses. Yes, there are those about this crazy little town that think SpongeBob could have led the 2012-13 Tigers to the Westchester County Center for the first time in program history, but there is sentiment throughout the township that Wallach caught a raw deal; perhaps the rawest deal any coach at PV ever got (trust me, that is saying something).

His former team was due to receive the Pride in Putnam Valley award at Monday’s BOE meeting, and the team dinner that was scheduled for this Thursday has since been cancelled because there is no way in heck that the PV brass and Wallach’s supporters could sit in on ‘The Last Supper’ with emotions running rampant like they are.

Dr. Nuzzi assured the situation is under control and that Nemecek will seek a replacement that will afford PV ballers with a coach capable of providing the appropriate skill development necessary to increase the level of athleticism within the program. Let’s hope so, because the track record at PV High has been sketchy to say the least, and she’s due for contract renewal (or not), though there has been very little movement on that. If this administration waits until September to replace Wallach, they will be doing a huge injustice to the student athletes in this program on all levels. They need to act now because they’ve just lost a coach that cared deeply about his players and this program.

Allegedly, Wallach didn’t do enough teaching, despite being the first basketball coach in PV history to mandate and coach an off-season regiment through summer and fall leagues. He disputes that point vehemently.

So what’s really behind the release of Ed Wallach, which I saw coming from a country mile away? If I were to play devil’s advocate, here are a few of the unspoken details, since none of the decision-makers are going on the record (please, don’t kill the messenger):

1. Wallach is gruff and, at times, holier than thou, which really irked ALL levels of PV brass, who cringed – quite literally – at some of the things he allegedly said to his players, even though the players laughed most of it off with “Ah, that’s just Ed being Ed.”. But y’all knew that was the deal when former AD Peter Kuczma pushed for his hire two years ago and the BOE sealed the deal with Dr. Nuzzi’s blessing. Sorry, but this clash was inevitable.

2. Wallach ticked off some influential parents (some who were originally in his corner), who then amped up the plotting. They were unwilling to deal with another year of it and sought a new direction.

3. The dye was cast long before but an uninterrupted 25-0 run by parochial power Our Lady of Lourdes, and the subsequent semifinal whipping at the County Center was, in all likelihood, the final indicator that the Tigers were both outplayed and outcoached, which sealed his fate.

4. The insidious claims of Wallach-driven nepotism from the junior varsity parents did not fall on deaf ears. Some of the JV parents, who were vocal, were not huge players in this decision; although nepotism seems to be something that was an issue with some parents.

5. And this I can live with. Suddenly, now that the Tigers have a fairly deep talent pool and a competitive in-house feeder system that has generated legitimate growth, there are actual teachers who want a go at coaching the Tigers (names being tossed around include former varsity Coach Gerry Carlin, former J.V. Coach Larry Kunze and P.E. Teacher Shawn Tarkington, who assumed the JV position when Coach Mike Douma was fired in mid-season). Others will get in line as well, including non-district coaches, because the unit that returns next season will be vastly talented and County Center worthy.

While this is unsubstantiated, it is believed that the PV Federation of Teacher’s Union is seeking stricter institution of the “Rights of First Refusal” clause in their contract language, which opens the door for Wallach’s ouster.  The current language in the PV teacher’s contract basically states that all things being equal a coaching job should go to a PVFT member. That is wishy-washy language, but if the language gives straight-up rights of first refusal (which most PVFT members want) then it’s possible to run into situations where someone who is only doing it for the money gets hired over a better candidate who is not a PVFT member. The language is only good if the AD, Superintendent and BOE are on the same page. Wallach was not in this for the money, but there are members of the teacher’s union and PV brass who questioned his motives and the tactics he used to get the position in the first place (remember, I am just the self-appointed messenger).

“I only wanted to build a successful program here in Putnam Valley,” Wallach said. “That was my only motivation. I got tired of hearing the excuses.”

It took Nemecek a week of observing practices before he had Wallach’s style pegged, and it flies in the face of his own personal beliefs on what good coaching is. Nemecek, whose head is spinning over the firestorms and parental amuck at PV, has no agenda and no political ties to anyone associated with the program, including BOE President Valerie Fitzgerald, who is catching a bad rap for stuff that perhaps isn’t true. The fact that her son — a great kid by the way — saw limited playing time under Wallach has nothing to do with this decision, so she needs to be cut some slack because I believe she’s above that. I don’t believe she was thrilled with Wallach as the coach, though, and was totally on board with his departure, but her son’s P.T. was not the issue.

The poop needed to hit the fan Monday at the BOE meeting, and it was set to fly in all directions, but the Superintendent pooh-poohed her guests and sent them home without much of an explanation in the hopes that apathy will soon prevail. Things need to start from scratch now; with a group of coaches with a common vision for what will be a successful program for a number of years. The kids are a resilient bunch and they will bounce back, and, so long as a competent replacement is quickly installed, there should be a smooth transition and we can all move forward.

By the way, wouldn’t it have made more sense to just shove reason No.5 down Wallach’s throat rather than impugn his coaching ability? He’s an educator himself and he understands unions and the business of right of first refusal.

“Would I have been happy with that? No, but I could have lived with it,” Wallach said. “I know I can coach and I know my team was always prepared for our opponent. To say I can’t coach or don’t teach basketball is hurtful and not true.”

While they won’t likely admit it, I believe a majority of the BOE and the administration found enough validity in the aforementioned reasons to make maneuvers against Wallach, but the part that really stinks was the timing of the move. Wallach, who also coached varsity girls’ softball the last two years, was due to coach and oversee the girls’ softball tryouts on Monday, a position purportedly granted to Rena Finsmith (of John Jay EF District), so the administrators had to act quickly or they would have had to pay him, according to Wallach. From their perspective, it was a swift judgment call that needed to be made, but that won’t stop the outrage, nor should it.

I’ll be shocked if any public outcry changes their minds and Wallach is reinstated, so, once again, Putnam Valley’s got a pair of black eyes because of its woefully inadequate record when it comes to handling coaches, whether it was two years ago or just last week; Wallach is one of many to leave with a bad taste in his mouth.

It wasn’t fair the way it all went down, but neither is life. Luckily, time heals all wounds and gradually lets us move past the injustices in life. Just or unjust; this just stinks.


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