Wanted: Coach or Caregiver?

R.J. Etzel said this week that the circumstances surrounding his resignation had led him to conclude that he had been “hung out to dry.”
R.J. Etzel, who returned here to coach East Hampton High’s baseball team after having spent the better part of the past decade in Miami, resigned on March 21 rather than accede to a proposed suspension. Jack Graves

    R.J. Etzel, the former star East Hampton High School athlete who recently moved back here from Miami to coach the varsity baseball team, and who was “forced into resigning” on March 21, said this week that the circumstances surrounding his resignation had led him to conclude that he had been “hung out to dry.”

    It was just two and a half weeks into the 10-week season.

    While it was true, he said, that he had used some salty language when confronted on several occasions with cavalier and, at times, defiant behavior (behavior that he said would not have been countenanced here in the 1990s), he had coached his players evenhandedly, had never singled anyone out in front of the group for a tongue-lashing, and had praised them when it was deserved.

    “Yes, I definitely used coarse language a few times, which I shouldn’t have, but I don’t think I’m alone in that among East Hampton coaches past and present,” said Etzel. “The question then is why me? I should have been given a warning, not presented with a take-it-or-leave-it suspension in the meeting I had on March 21 with the principal and athletic director. If I’d accepted a suspension, it would have put me in an untenable position.”

    “I don’t know why Joe Vas [the A.D.] couldn’t have stood up for me,” he said. “He said he knew other coaches cursed, but that he didn’t think it was right. Man, it takes the breath out of you. Did somebody from the school board pressure him? The chain of command wasn’t followed, that’s for sure. All of a sudden, there was this decision to suspend me, and when I said if they suspended me, I was done, they looked relieved.”

    “Those few moments when I told their sons to do something as opposed to letting them do what they wanted led to this,” Etzel said.

    A published report last week on his exit had been badly garbled, Etzel said. “But what bothered me the most, though, was the superintendent [Rich Burns] allegedly saying ‘his style didn’t fit the style of the kids.’ He’s the king, so I guess this is what they want — someone to go out there and watch over the kids rather than coach them. If so, I certainly would not have applied for that kind of position.”