LUMBERTON — After being hired to serve on the Lumberton football staff by coach Mike Setzer, Eric Murphy felt he needed to come to the aid of the man he worked under in recent years.
“I would be a coward if I didn’t stand up for my boss,” Murphy said to a crowd of approximately 120 people inside the Lumberton High School auditorium on Monday as a part of the community meeting on the firing of Setzer. “We need to get together and do what is right.”
News came out last Tuesday that Setzer was relieved of his coaching duties and people had their response to the news, and were able to address members of administration from the Public Schools of Robeson County, along with Lumberton Principal Larry Obeda, who controls the hiring and firing process at the school, per policy set by the school system. The official decision on Setzer’s status as the Lumberton football coach will be announced at the Board of Education meeting today at Southside-Ashpole Elementary that starts at 7 p.m., following the community forum on the Innovative School Districts takeover of Southside-Ashpole at 6 p.m..
Parents, coaches, former players and community members came out to attest to the character of Setzer, who served as the coach for the Pirates for four seasons. During that span he compiled a 17-28 record and a first-round playoff appearance in 2015. This past season, Lumberton finished 2-9, the worst record under Setzer and the program’s worst record since the 2013 season.
Murphy came to the defense of his “boss” in regards to that 2-9 season.
“Our best player, quarterback Braylan Grice, was a one-man show and was playing behind a 10th-grade offensive line. Our top running back, Montrez Howell, was voted the No. 5 player in the county in the preseason and only played in two games due to injuries,” he said. “But there is potential here going to next year. This team is loaded and to take it away from him hurts me. That man should have his job.”
The people that stood up and gave remarks on Setzer said they felt like wins and losses were something that he cared about, but that was a secondary priority to the players and their attitudes on and off the field. Off the field as a father figure for the student-athletes is where many considered his greatest asset to the program.
“The wins and losses were fine to him, but he really wanted to make people better,” former Lumberton football player Monteris Cromartie said. “Without Coach Setzer, I don’t think I am the man I am now.”
“If you take away Coach Setzer from this school, you do this school a disgrace,” said Cinta Grice, mother of Braylan Grice.
Following the community comments portion of the meeting, questions on note cards from the audience were read aloud for Obeda by Robeson County Superintendent Shanita Wooten to answer on the reasoning behind his decision.
Obeda was questioned on the accuracy of a report that Setzer was promised another season before Thanksgiving and then came back two weeks later to change his decision and fire him as coach.
Odeba did explain that was the case, but the second decision came after “using sound judgment.”
“It was my decision and was based on the school as a whole. I know it may be an unpopular decision, but it was done for what was best for all the students as a whole,” he said. “It came down to multiple things, not wins and losses. I have known Coach Setzer for a long time, and I did everything I could to make sure that everything was successful. I felt it was time to go in a different direction.”
One woman asked if the decision to fire Setzer was something that Obeda, a school board member and a booster discussed and planned.
“That is incorrect information, ma’am,” Obeda said to the audience member.
The school board will meet tonight and Wooten said that the information tonight will be a part of the discussion for the group as a whole, but she had no comment if the decision would or could be reversed by the board in the meeting. The school system policy places the power and control of hiring and firing of coaches in the hands of each school’s principal, but community input is something she says is vital going through a decision like this.
“It’s left up to the principal to decide the extra-curricular duties for their teachers at the school,” Wooten said. “I will review what happened. … I felt like that we had a community forum and the board members are voted on by the community that they should be made aware of what the parents of students here had.
“The board sets the policy and I think it is important for the principals to adhere to those policies. I will let them (the board) know what happened, and let them know what transpired before Thanksgiving and after Thanksgiving and get feedback from them. If any policy was broken, of course, we will address that.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.