Former East St. Louis boys basketball coach Tony Young said he’s ready to set the record straight about the circumstances that led to his suspension and eventual resignation from the job.
His parting words were delivered with the anticipated hiring of a new head boys basketball coach by the District 189 Board of Education on Tuesday night.
Young says he’s not bitter toward the school, but wants his “just due” for leaving the program on the “verge of something special” and to clear his reputation of the accusations that have since been levied against him.
“I am genuinely appreciative of the opportunities I was given there,” he said. “I hadn’t been a head coach before and they gave me a chance not everybody would have given me. I can’t forget that and I don’t want it to seem like I have hard feelings with East St. Louis High School. There are some great people there.
“But I have learned to be careful about who you trust and I can’t go on there constantly looking over my shoulder.”
The school district suspended Young after recordings of his profanity-laden half-time rant emerged briefly on the video-sharing website, YouTube, following a Jan. 13 game with Alton. He never returned to the Flyers’ bench.
After they were taken down, the recordings were shared with the Belleville News-Democrat for review.
The use of racist language was not obvious, though it was included in the complaint against him. Young also said a comment he made to one of his players to “clothesline” an opponent was taken out of context and not intended as a literal threat of injury.
“The way this was presented was that I’m some kind of monster. In context, we were playing against one of the best teams in the state and I was pushing my guys to play basketball the way we play it — hard-nosed and tough,” Young said. “I mean, think about it — if a football coach tells his guys to go rip their heads off does he really mean they should go decapitate the other player?
“Did I want the kids to close the lane and defend the basket? Yeah. Did I want him to foul the guy if he had to? Yeah. But that’s basketball. You can’t be soft. Did I really want my guys to take an opponent off his feet and hurt him? Come on, that’s crazy. They way this all spread was without context and ended up blown way out of proportion.”
Regarding the use of coarse language, Young says he regrets it, though he doesn’t believe it was unusual in the coaching ranks, particularly in the inner-city schools such as East Side.
“I did some language that I’m not necessarily proud of, but it was nothing more than they hear every day in the neighborhood or at home,” he said. “That’s not an excuse, but it’s just not unusual.”
Young said he believes the recordings were made and released by someone who didn’t like him and had set out to cost him his job. Based on hearsay and some deduction, Young further claims to know who that person is, but does not want to say until he’s certain.
“It wasn’t a player,” he said. “The team and the kids have supported me.”
Young said he sent a letter of resignation to the school board in March and Hank Harris was appointed as interim head coach.
Harris was a candidate to fill the job permanently, but the District 189 Board announced the hiring of East St. Louis native and former star player Phillip Gilbert to be the Flyers’ new head coach.
The Flyers were in the midst of one of their finest season in nearly a decade when Young and the school parted ways. They were 13-5 overall and 9-0 in the Southwestern Conference and ranked No. 7 in Illinois Class 4A.
Young, 30, was 54-22 through parts of three seasons in East St. Louis. He had previously served as an assistant under Rick Majerus at Saint Louis University and was a defensive all-American and Missouri Valley Conference first-team pick as a player at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
He said he would like to continue coaching and has received some offers.
“This experience hasn’t soured me on coaching. It has made me very cautious, though, of where I coach and who I coach with,” Young said. “I just want my just due. I was always 100 percent for those kids. I still love them and have kept in contact with many of them. I could never abuse them or want tear them down.”