Despite allegations that he knew about a rape and tried to protect his players who committed it, despite widespread criticism that he didn't punish his team enough and that he should be fired, and despite a grand jury that could charge him looming next week, the powerful Steubenville High football coach Reno Saccocia has been approved for a two-year administrative contract, the city superintendent confirmed to The Atlantic Wire Monday afternoon.
The Ohio Valley's Herald Star newspaper reported on the Steubenville school board's minutes over the weekend in an article that included a single phrase about the coach's new deal:
Two-year administrative contracts for Charles Kokiko, administrator; Bryan Mills, assistant middle school principal; Reno Saccoccia, director of administrative services; Joseph Yanok, middle school principal; Melinda Young, director of programs; and Sara Elliot, school psychologist.
In a phone interview with the Wire, Steubenville schools superintendent Mike McVey described the administrative services position as a "board approved two-year-administrative contract in his current position" that was up for renewal. "Coaching contracts are different from teaching and administrative contracts," McVey said, stressing that the teaching title was "supplemental" to Saccoccia's coaching contract.
Nonetheless, the school board's approval will keep Saccoccia at the school — and it signals a vote of confidence in perhaps the most influential man in the fading steel town that was consumed by the social media response to a case in which two of Saccoccia's players were convicted in juvenile court of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl at after parties for a pre-season game by the powerhouse Big Red football team. A grand jury hearing into possible additional charges relating to the parties and their aftermath is now scheduled to convene on April 30.
During the rape trial last month, text messages from Trent Mays, one of the convicted rapists and Saccoccia's star quarterback, were submitted as evidence that seemed to indicate the coach — know around town as Coach Sac — knew about the assault at the parties and had attempted to do something about it:
I got Reno. He took care of it and shit ain't gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I’m not worried.
To be clear, that's just a text message. Mays could easily have been exaggerating about Saccoccia's involvement, and proving otherwise might prove difficult. But Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has indicated that the grand jury investigation will look into whether anyone else should be charged with, among other things, a failure to report a crime or tampering with evidence. "We want to bring finality so the community feels that justice has been done — that nothing has been swept under the rug and everyone has their day in court," DeWine said after the verdict. According to Ohio law, Saccoccia and school administrators in the state are required to report child abuse. Indeed, Saccoccia's re-upped contract confirms he held a second position within the school that would seem to put him in a position defined by that Ohio law — the responsible parties include a "school teacher; school employee; school authority; person engaged in social work or the practice of professional counseling."
Because of that text — and because Saccoccia apparently didn't punish his football players until eight games in to their ten-game regular season (Mays and Ma'lik Richmond were suspended, but it's unclear if that happened before their arrest) — there have been calls, mostly from beyond Steubenville, for the school to relieve him of a position he has held fore more than 30 years. One of the most popular petitions on the social justice site Change.org is still "Steubenville Schools: Fire Coach Reno Saccoccia," which has 134,000 signatures. The petition reads:
No players known to have participated in the rape in any way -- sharing the photos and videos, keeping it from authorities, being at the scene without reporting the rape -- were ever punished by Saccoccia or his staff. Even after the boys were arrested and charged with rape, Saccoccia kept his players on the team [boys who were not convicted of the rape, but boys who were at the party and one boy who said he took a picture of the rape and deleted it] for eight more games. Saccoccia even threatened a female reporter with violence, telling her, "You're gonna get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."
Despite other vocal calls for Saccoccia to lose his job, he remains a leader in a fragile town. Some residents blame him for bringing out the dark side of Steubenville, while the equally vocal football fan base in the town continues to support Coach Sac. So, apparently, does the school board.