Over the objections of almost 200 supporters in attendance Tuesday night, the West Orange Board of Education approved the hiring of a new high school football coach to replace longtime coach John Jacob.
In a 4-1 vote, with board member Ronald Charles dissenting, the board approved the hiring of new head coach Jim Matsakis despite pleas from community members, students and former players for the board to let Jacob retain his job after 10 seasons.
More than a dozen residents offered testimony how the school community sees Jacob as more than a teacher or a coach. The parents and students also demanded transparency from the board why Jacob was removed.
The residents cheered Jacob when he appeared at the meeting and several times throughout when speakers offered public support for him. However, residents did not treat school administrators and board members as kindly when they defended the decision to change coaches.
After thanking Jacob for providing years of leadership on and off the field and reiterating that he will remain at the school as a physical education teacher, West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore became emotional while he defended himself and interim Superintendent James O’Neill from allegations of corruption.
“I’m not part of a corrupt process,” said Moore. “All [prospective] coaches were made aware of the process… I understand some of you may be disappointed in the outcome. As a new principal, I realize there is no decision that goes without some measure of criticism. I understand that. Coach Jakes did a lot of work here… I didn’t see any indication of [corruption in this process]. I ask that when you have the opportunity to greet our new coach, please do so with open arms.”
O’Neill tried to clarify the process that went into hiring of the new coach. He said the administration began the interview process with 21 qualified candidates, including Jacob. All candidates were asked the same questions in the first round of interviews.
The field was then cut to 12, where 75 percent of the questions were the same; 25 percent were tailored to the individual based on answers given in the first interview. The field was then cut down to four and the decision to recommend Matsakis to the board was then unanimous.
“I just wonder how that process could appear to be corrupt,” O’Neill said. “Kids try out for a team, sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. When coaches apply, they are in a similar competition.”
In 10 seasons Jacob’s sported a 51-49 record, finishing 5–5 last season.
The boy’s lacrosse and the softball coach have also been replaced since O’Neill took over.