Lindenwood-Belleville football coach Jeff Fisher, who helped start the program in 2012, was told Thursday morning by the school’s athletic director that he would not be returning for the upcoming 2015 season.
Asked about the reason he was given for not bring brought back, Fisher said he was told there were several paperwork issues regarding various events involving the football program.
“I can confirm that Coach Fisher is no longer with the university,” said Lindenwood Director of Athletics Scott Spinner, who refused to address any specifics as to why Fisher was being dismissed. “There were no NAIA violations related to Coach Fisher’s departure.”
Spinner said Lynx assistant coach Byron Gettis will serve as interim head coach until a full-time head coach is hired.
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Before coming to Lindenwood, which used the football team and other sports programs to help boost enrollment at its Belleville campus, Fisher spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach at McKendree University in Lebanon.
“I’m pretty beat up about it,” said Fisher, who is 44. “I’m very happy I had an opportunity to coach a great group of kids and with some great guys. I was really looking forward to coaching this group because I know we’ve got some strong talent and some strong leadership coming back.
“I think this football team is going to be successful.”
It might be, but Fisher is no longer part of the program.
“I’m disappointed because when I took that job I was so excited about what that program was going to bring to Belleville and the community,” Fisher said. “They’re losing somebody that cared as much about that program, as much about that school and this community as anybody.”
The Lynx had a 2-8 record last season after 4-6 seasons in 2012 and 2013.
“I’ll land on my feet,” Fisher said. “I know that I’m good at this and I know that I’ve done things the right way.”
Gettis is a former all-state football and baseball player at Cahokia High who played major league baseball with the Kansas City Royals in 2004, later playing college football at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and McKendree.
Gettis also coached at McKendree and O’Fallon High School before joining the coaching staff at Lindenwood.
“I think that Coach Gettis has enough time to fully prepare the coaches and the team for the season,” Spinner said. “We are going to conduct a national search. Our intent is to post (the head coach opening) this weekend and evaluate the pool of candidates we get immediately.
“If we get a strong pool (of candidates), we plan to move before the season. That would be an ideal circumstance, but we’re very committed to getting the right person in the position. If that comes after the season, then we’ll move forward at that time.”
Lindenwood-Belleville senior captain and running back Kam Harris was as surprised as anyone when Fisher called him Thursday and told him he would not be back.
Harris is in the school’s first senior football class and has been part of every game in school history.
“In my opinion ‘Fish’ was a great guy and was always for the guys and the team,” said Harris, who played at Althoff before signing with Lindenwood. “It just puts a bitter taste in my mouth because me and ‘Fish’ connected on a personal level. He was more of a mentor than a coach to me.
“It was actually surprising to everyone. “
Harris said he called others players with the news and got similar responses.
“He knew how to connect with different kids from everywhere,” Harris said. “He didn’t teach everybody the same way. He knew how to work with you, make you better at the things you’re good at and bring the best out of you.”
Harris is optimistic about the talent on the field for 2015.
“In my honest opinion, I do believe we have a shot at .500,” he said. “We’ve finally come together as a team and established a leadership. It’s not a bunch of individuals playing on the field any more, it’s more of a family feel now.”
Asked about the timing of Fisher’s dismissal, with it being so close to the start of the season, Spinner said “We have a lot of confidence in Coach Gettis and his abilities to serve as interim coach. We’re very confident in Coach Gettis and have a very strong recruiting class and a lot of committed student-athletes. We’re already reaching out to them and the response from them is positive about Coach Gettis.”