Freshman coach Bob Burnside was named interim head coach of the St. Bernard/Norwich Tech cooperative football program Thursday after Scott Cook, who refused to resign the position, was placed on administrative leave.
Brendan Case, athletic director at St. Bernard, confirmed the move Thursday afternoon and said current assistant coaches Willie Quinones, James Singleton and Ken Stanley have also agreed to remain on staff.
Patricia A. Ciccone, superintendent of the Connecticut Technical High School System, confirmed the decision to place Cook on paid administrative leave in an email to The Day "pending the results of a fact-finding on matters pertaining to the performance of his duties as Coach."
Ciccone added, "As this is a personnel matter, it is confidential and I am unable to comment any further on the issue at this time."
Players from both schools met with their respective administrations Thursday, Case said, adding that the players agreed to continue the season, which resumes on Oct. 13 at Bacon Academy.
Earlier Thursday, players Tucker Johns and Garrett Boerenko questioned leadership at both schools and disputed the reasons given for football Cook's dismissal.
Johns and Boerenko were part of a 12-player gathering at Norwich Skatepark across the street from Norwich Tech in support of Cook, who has been asked to resign or be fired.
"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. 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 Thursday, 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 Norwich Tech assistant principal Dr. Michael Kaiser. He said Cook made him run after practice as punishment as well.
"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. 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."