Like most of the high school football teams throughout the Carolinas, Independence’s Patriots will kick off a new season Friday with excitement, but they will also have uncertainty.
Last Thursday, Independence principal David Legrand fired coach Scott Young, who was hired in May, and replaced him with offensive coordinator Hal Brown. Since then, Independence has scrambled to adjust to a new offense, much different than the power-run game that helped Young to three 3A state championships, nine conference titles and a record of 172-54 at West Rowan.
They’re also scrambling to prepare for a Dutch Fork (S.C.) team that has reached three of the past four S.C. state championships games and is coached by Tom Knotts, who once led the Patriots to 109 consecutive wins and seven straight N.C. state championships.
Asked what led to Young’s removal as coach, Legrand referred the Observer to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools communications department, and said only that Brown would be interim coach this season. Legrand was named principal at Independence May 24, about two weeks after Young was hired.
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“We want to just get through this season,” Legrand said, choosing his words carefully. “We’re not going to focus on next season just yet.”
The Observer spoke to more than a dozen Independence parents and players. None would speak on the record. Brown and Independence athletics director Kelly Lewis did not return calls, but some parents spoke briefly off the record and others close to the program spoke to the newspaper.
The trouble began, parents and sources said, when Young underwent successful heart transplant surgery in late May and spent nearly two months in the hospital recovering. He missed a number of the Patriots’ off-season workouts and a chance to build a rapport with parents and players.
When Young returned, he installed a running offense at Independence, which has long been a pass-first team. He also planned to insert his son Bryant, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound rising junior, at quarterback. One potential Independence quarterback transferred to Providence High. Another, at least temporarily, left the team.
A group of parents became infuriated with those and other changes, including what some felt was an “abrasive” coaching style, and complained to the administration, said parents and sources. That apparently led to Legrand’s decision. Young found out last Thursday, four days after his father Larry died at 70 of complications from a lung disease.
“I think some of the parents didn’t trust me to make decisions that are best for the team,” Young said. “They’ve got to understand I’ve moved quarterbacks in the past, and when I do it, it’s best for the team and best for those individuals (being moved) to get them on the field more.
“Quarterback is not a featured position in my offense. And if I was guilty of anything, I never should’ve talked to the players on the team about those moves.
“But I can assure you, I never did anything to harm the team, but just trying to make us better and to play the best quarterback to help us win, and that was my son. I truly believe my son and I have been bullied out of Independence by parents.”
Young said he remains employed as a physical education teacher at Independence. He and his family have not moved to Charlotte, but his wife, Dianne, has accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school where son Brody planned to attend kindergarten. Daughter Ally is a rising freshman who made the volleyball team at Independence.
Young has put his house up for sale and might move into another school district so Bryant can play football. It’s possible he and his son could remain at Independence.
“It’s disheartening,” Young said. “I’ve never been thrown a curveball like this. ...The bad thing is, I’ve never heard of a high school coach getting fired without coaching a game without any kind of ethical or moral issues.”
Vance High coach Aaron Brand, who was once an assistant coach at Independence, said his heart “goes out to Young.”
“It’s not just Scott Young and the kids at Independence who are affected,” Brand said. “It’s also his family. Our job is suspenseful and stressful enough without having to look over your shoulder and wonder who’s after your job, or not getting the support you need.
“We need all the support we can get and I’m sure he didn’t get it. I’m not throwing shade on anybody, I don’t know who’s at fault, but as a fellow head coach, it’s tough to see from a distance.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools statement on firing of former Independence High football coach Scott Young:
“Scott Young was hired as the Independence HS football coach in the spring 2016. Mr. David Legrand, new principal at Independence HS determined the football program would be under new leadership and direction. The Independence High School Patriots varsity football team will began its 2016-17 season under the leadership of Hal Brown as interim head football coach. Brown served as the defensive line coach at Independence.”