Jeff Rouser hopes to leave the Bainbridge High School football program on a positive note despite resigning Nov. 16.
Rouser went 25-37 in seven years at BHS. He had some disagreements with district administration at the end of last season.
“I went in to see them and expected to hear, ‘Jeff you have done a great job with these guys,’” Rouser said. “I thought it was pretty well-known what we accomplished with these players and what we had done through COVID. Instead, I received a list of what I considered very petty issues and was quite surprised as I expected the opposite.”
District superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen did not respond to requests for comment. Public relations officer Erin Bischoff would only say, “BISD thanks Coach Rouser for his years of service and for instilling a strong sense of teamwork and team spirit into the Bainbridge High School football program.”
Lance Odermat, president of the football boosters, said the six infractions mentioned by the district were petty.
He said: “There were no bullying, harassment or inappropriate conduct allegations. I can tell you nobody would look at the file and say it was warranted to dismissal, removal or resignation.”
Instead, Odermat said because Rouser played football at the Air Force Academy and is a veteran military officer his strong personality did not play well with the administration.
When Rouser told Odermat about the infractions, he reached out to boosters and parents to write letters of support to keep Rouser.
One came from Jen Breen, who had two players in Rouser’s program.
Her letter says: “I just want to say thank you for your kind, positive, skillful coaching all these years. They have benefited greatly from their experience as a Spartan football player. Most of all, you taught them how to work as a team, stay positive when things don’t go their way and use skills for good sportsmanship. Our youth and community needs positive people like you. I’m sad to know you will be leaving. ”
The response from Odermat’s request brought a lot of pressure against the administration. Therefore, Rouser decided to resign so there would not be any disruptions to the program.
Rouser was told in his departing meeting that it is the head coach’s responsibility to raise all the required funding.
Odermat added, “Everything the BHS administration does is made through the vision of equity. I can’t understand through the lens of equity, they want to make changes they did when this program has come so far. I would say there is no more equitable program at the school than football.”
Bainbridge football does not cut players. They take every player who puts in the effort, including Cate Presher, a junior girl who wanted to try football for the first time this season.
Odermat believes the vision of equity can be blurry.
“When the issue with the basketball coach took center stage, I thought since there are no clashes with administration’s personalities and we had a good year, the door has to be wide open for Rouser to come back,” Odermat said.
In contrast to Rouser, BHS basketball coach Steven Haizlip received a slap on the wrist after receiving multiple complaints from parents and players. In a previous Bainbridge Review article, complaints were listed from a public information request.
Some included: “Coach style is negative reinforcement. You do stuff not to get yelled at. Intense. Loud;” “Hard coach to like;” “Was extreme in his reactions, more about frustration than player improvement;” and “Yelling, it does feel very personal when he does it.”
The baseball program also has come under fire in a similar situation as Rouser’s. In another previous article, Mark Lavigne, whose son Luke is on the football and baseball team, said the administration has a vendetta against the baseball team that has gone on for years.
Rouser said the culture has changed since he was hired by former principal Duane Fish in 2016. Rouser said he accepted the job because the administration was pro-sports.
Rouser made several positive impacts on the BHS program from 2016-22. Rouser fielded a team of about 20 players in his first spring ball season. This season, Rouser had over 70.
Also, football power O’Dea in Seattle typically attracted some of the top players from BI and got them to play across the water. During Rouser’s tenure, he was able to get more of them to play at home.
“When I was verbally hired, the principal said four eighth-graders are going to commit to O’Dea tomorrow,” Rouser said. “I called them, and two of them stayed.”
One of the local recruits Rouser kept on the island was Alex Ledbetter, the first CenturyLink High School Athlete of the Week. Recently, Rouser picked up freshman quarterback Trey Thompson, who had planned to start at Mercer Island High School. In addition, Rouser picked up California recruits like cornerback and running back Micah Bryant.
Rouser also brought safety and positivity to the program. He worked with boosters to provide nearly all of the funding, and used much of those funds on the newest and safest equipment each season.
Rouser also provided hope during the pandemic. “We came off a playoff appearance and had beat NK when COVID hit,” Odermat said. “I remember 2020 was hard, especially when the weather changed and the dark days set in. The fact that Jeff and his team kept the kids engaged had a huge impact on keeping hope alive.”
But the administration and Rouser did not see eye-to-eye in recent years.
Fish “felt one of the pillars for kids development was sports,” Rouser said. “He told me he believed that football and other sports foster school spirit and can help student-athletes get into quality schools at the next level. That focus got me really excited and is why I came to Bainbridge. There was a huge change when he left.”
Odermat joined the boosters four years ago. “My strong sense was the administration did not care about competitiveness,” Odermat said. “They were focused about their own perception of the rules and regulations at BHS. I felt like some of it was wrong and misguided. It never seemed to be about what is best for the kids in the program.”
Rouser said he has one regret. Since none of the football coaches worked at the school, there was a lack of a relationship between them and the administration. That could have made a difference, he said. On the other hand, Rouser believes his emphasis on the kids, parents, and boosters is where it deserved to be.
Despite the bad ending, Rouser said he cares greatly for the program.
“I’m a competitor at my core who wants to win but it was way beyond that. I see and hear from many players past and present. I love the coaches and know how much they care and what great models they are for developing boys into young men,” he said.
Rouser also said he wants to keep coaching. “I’m going to give it some time but I’m not calling it a career. I still have juices flowing here so we will see what happens.”