Norwich - Less than 24 hours after players considered boycotting the rest of the 2012 football season upon learning that head coach Scott Cook said he was given a quit-or-be-fired ultimatum, emotions were still raw at both schools involved in the St. Bernard/Norwich Tech cooperative program.
But following a whirlwind day that included meetings with administrators from both schools, the decision to place Cook on paid administrative leave and the naming of freshman coach Bob Burnside as the interim head coach, St. Bernard athletic director Brendan Case said Thursday the season will resume on Oct. 13 at Bacon Academy.
"There were concerns, obviously, and we took some questions," said Case, who was joined by Norwich Tech assistant principal Michael Kaiser during an informal meeting at a pasta dinner with players and parents on Thursday night. "We wanted to push the plan going forward and talked about ways to make the season as productive as possible for the kids."
Case said not every player attended the meeting, but he expects the majority of the team to practice for the first time under Burnside at 2:45 p.m. today. Willie Quinones, Ken Stanley and James Singleton - members of Cook's coaching staff - will also return, Case said.
Burnside, 51, has been assistant at St. Bernard the past four seasons, including three as the freshman coach. A 1979 Stonington graduate who played football under current UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni at Southern Connecticut State, Burnside said his immediate goal is simple.
"The focus right now is to make this about the kids and the game again," he said. "It's time to stop making this about wins and losses, making it about coaches and administration. It's high school football and it needs to be put in its place.
"It's coached by adults, but this is their game and we've lost focus on that."
Burnside, a member of the Army National Guard for 30 years, realizes that emotions are still running high.
"I know they had a rough day yesterday," he said. "But I'm excited that there's a good core of upperclassmen who are still enthusiastic and are ready to continue the season. I know some kids are still upset, but I hope they decide to come back and play the game."
As for Cook, he did not resign Thursday, saying "I've done nothing wrong. I followed protocol and I have been ignored."
That led Norwich Tech, which is responsible for paying Cook - thus making him a part-time state employee - to place him on immediate paid administrative leave.
Patricia A. Ciccone, superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, confirmed the decision via email.
"I am advised by the CT State Dept. of Education's Bureau of Human Resources that Scott Cook's current status is that he has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of a fact-finding (mission) on matters pertaining to the performance of his duties as Coach," Ciccone said. "As this is a personnel matter, it is confidential and I am unable to comment any further on the issue at this time."
Prior to the start of school Thursday, players Tucker Johns and Garrett Boerenko questioned leadership at both schools and disputed the reasons given for Cook's dismissal.
Johns and Boerenko were part of a 12-player gathering at Norwich Skatepark across the street from Norwich Tech, supporting Cook.
"They want to hire new coaches halfway through season?" said Johns, a senior at Norwich Tech. "That's how you build a program? (Teammate) Joe Mariani said it best (Wednesday) night. If we change coaches every two years, we're never going to get better."
Cook said Wednesday that executive union representative Ed Levy of Norwich Tech told Cook to resign or be fired during a testy phone call. Cook said Levy cited an incident on a school bus over a year ago among the primary reasons for his dismissal.
"Two of the players (from Norwich Tech) were involved in a scuffle," Cook said. "... They're saying I didn't handle it properly. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. It was a Norwich Tech incident. I made them run hills for their behavior. I told (Norwich Tech athletic director) Tim Krodel the rest of the disciplinary actions were up to them. I didn't feel it had anything to do with me."
Johns and Boerenko agreed, saying they were the two players involved.
"It was all over girls. We were guys about it and got mad at each other," Johns said.
Boerenko said the incident happened on a bus ride from Norwich Tech to St. Bernard. Boerenko said he "slapped" Johns and was issued a three-day suspension from Kaiser. He said Cook made him run after practice as punishment.
"It was two teenage kids pumped up with testosterone on a bus talking about a girl," Johns said. "Garrett and I are fine. Completely fine. We were crying about it (Wednesday) in the locker room. They're just trying to bring up stuff to make coach Cook look like an idiot."
Boerenko said the incident shouldn't be an issue any longer.
"Coach Cook can't control what happens on a bus," Boerenko said. "I don't see what this has to do with him. Plus, we were already punished."
"Our parents say they don't want us to stop playing because it gives the athletic directors more reason to not have a team next year and to show we don't care," Johns said. "But I think it's disrespectful and outrageous to play for another coach halfway through the season."
Sports editor Chuck Banning also contributed to this report.