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Woodland Hills football coach Kevin Murray resigns amid controversies

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, 8:03 a.m.
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Kevin Murray, as seen Dec. 6, 2016.
Woodland Hills High School
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Woodland Hills High School

Kevin Murray, hired in the spring to replace highly respected George Novak as Woodland Hills High School's football coach, resigned Wednesday before coaching a game for the perennial WPIAL power.

Reached Wednesday morning, Murray told the Trib: "It's unfortunate that it's come to this. I'm doing it because I don't want to cause any circus for these kids. Woodland Hills gets enough negative publicity. This isn't about me. This season is about the kids."

Assistant football coaches and players received a letter from Murray announcing his decision.

He remains on unpaid leave as the high school principal as the Pennsylvania Department of Education delayed renewing his teaching certification in the midst of several high-profile controversies involving treatment of students. Whether he will return as principal remains unclear.

Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis, who represents a group of students accusing Murray of verbal and physical assault, posted Murray's letter on Facebook. Murray's attorney, Phil DiLucente, confirmed Murray wrote the letter.

"Please know that this decision has broken me down to the core as a man," Murray wrote. "I have learned many lessons playing football and probably more as a coach."

Assistant football coach Chris Edmonds, who received the letter, said he wishes Murray well.

"I'm hoping we hire a very qualified head coach to replace him," he said.

Woodland Hills opens the football season against Gateway High School on Aug. 25 at the Wolvarena.

The storied Wolverines football program was headed by Novak since 1987. Just last weekend, Novak was in Canton, Ohio, for the NFL Hall of Fame induction of Jason Taylor, a former Woodland Hills standout.

"I thank you for setting the path and the foundation for me to be here tonight," Taylor told Novak during his induction speech. "Thank you, Coach. I love you."

Braddock Borough Council President Tina Doose called Murray's resignation a victory for the district's children. Braddock is one of 12 communities that make up the Woodland Hills School District.

"It has never been personal with me. I don't even know Mr. Murray," Doose said. "His letter was laced with lies and innuendo, and not once did he ever bother to apologize to the students that were hurt physically and emotionally. There are still a few more changes that need to be made, but we are headed in the right direction."

School district Superintendent Alan Johnson told the Tribune-Review that Murray informed the school board Wednesday of his desire to resign.

"But the resignation will be official only after the board reviews and approves a resignation agreement," Johnson said. "In the meantime, we are appointing a senior assistant head coach to lead the team until the board has considered and approved a resignation formally."

A school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Murray was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 30 in connection with an incident in which an audio recording surfaced of him allegedly threatening a 14-year-old special education student.

Murray can be heard on the recording saying, "I'll punch you right in your face, dude," and "I'll knock your (expletive) teeth down your throat."

The district said he was disciplined, but officials wouldn't say how. He returned to the job in January.

Murray did not face criminal charges. But Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., in a letter to the superintendent, called Murray's actions "inappropriate and arguably threatening."

The Woodland Hills School Board voted, 5-4, to hire Murray as head coach of the varsity football team in April. Novak supported the hiring of Murray, who worked as an assistant under the longtime coach.

The high school and district faced more scrutiny after Hollis went public in May with videos from school surveillance cameras that showed the arrests of two black students, ages 14 and 15, by a white Churchill police officer then assigned to the school.

In a video from April 3, Churchill officer Steve Shaulis can be seen dragging Que'chawn Wade, 14, into the school's main office lobby before allegedly fighting with him off camera and knocking out one of the teen's teeth, Hollis said. Wade faces a resisting arrest charge in juvenile court.

Video from a March 2015 incident shows Shaulis putting Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser. Murray helped hold the teen down during the arrest for disorderly conduct. A judge acquitted Williams of resisting arrest after the tape was played at trial.

Zappala confirmed that the FBI and U.S. attorney's office are investigating whether Shaulis violated the students' civil rights.

Staff writer Kevin Gorman contributed. Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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