Shar removed as West Mifflin's coach for 3rd time in 2 years

| Friday, March 11, 2011

Phil Shar is being ousted as girls basketball coach at West Mifflin Area High School again.

Shar, who is a member of the West Mifflin Area school board, announced at a workshop meeting Thursday that he learned earlier that day the district planned to remove him from the position and reinstall Mindy McClelland, a teacher who'd held the position last year.

It's a bit like déjà vu.

Shar, who'd been coach for 19 years until his position was opened by the district two years ago, had been replaced by McClelland in the 2009-10 school year.

The episode ultimately resulted in Shar running a successful write-in campaign to get elected to the school board in 2010. That election resulted in a power shift on the school board that also led to Shar's being reinstalled as a head coach of the team on a voluntary basis in May 2010.

His rehiring led the teachers' union to file a grievance claiming Shar was not allowed to coach because of his position on the board. Another firing and rehiring would follow for Shar because of the grievance, but he ended up coaching the season just ended for no pay.

Speaking at Thursday's meeting about a grievance arbitration hearing on Jan. 11, Shar said he suspected his time as coach was about up again when a lawyer representing the school district gave what Shar believed was a weak defense on his behalf.

According to Shar, the arbitrator “said to independent counsel, ‘Do you have a defense for Mr. Shar?' and independentcounsel said, ‘No.'”

District solicitor Jack Cambest said independent counsel for the district, attorney J.R. Hall, did have a defense for Shar but it wasn't enough to trump the state law that prohibits existing paying positions from being awarded to volunteers. Cambest said the defense offered by the district was that Shar was coaching without getting paid. But, Cambest noted at the meeting, “It doesn't matter if he does it voluntarily or not.”

It is expected that McClelland will be offered the coaching job back plus an $8,024 award for the pay she would have received if she'd been coach this past season.

Shar noted during the meeting that conversations he'd had with Patricia McGrail, who was acting solicitor for the district between June and December last year, had given him the impression he could beat the grievance and remain coach on a voluntary basis. Shar acknowledged, however, that Cambest — who was solicitor before McGrail and has since been reappointed to that position — had given him advice in advance of his speaking with McGrail that “legally I was not allowed to both.”

Shar was represented by attorney George Gobel at the arbitration hearing.

Cambest said Shar didn't legally even have a right to speak at the hearing because the matter was between the union and the school district. Cambest said the union objected to Shar being permitted to testify at the hearing but the school district did not and he was permitted to do so.

“We said we did not care. We did not object to that. Because I felt you needed to say what you had to say,” said Cambest, adding that any advice Shar had received that his coaching was not subject to state law because of his volunteer status was wrong. “Your only defense was you were doing this for free, and that's what we said. And the arbitrator, rightly so said, ‘It doesn't matter.'”

The school board is expected to finalize the action on the coaching positions at a regular meeting next week.

Shar led West Mifflin to a 17-7 overall record in his first season back as coach this winter. The Lady Titans' 8-2 mark in Section 4-AAA play was good enough for a second-place finish behind South Park (19-4, 9-1).

After knocking off South Fayette 70-52 in a WPIAL Class AAA first round playoff game, West Mifflin was dispatched from the playoffs with a 59-45 loss to New Castle in the quarterfinals.

Shar has led the Lady Titans to the WPIAL Championship game five times and won a Class AAA title in 2001. His career record now sits at 398-60.

In McClelland's one season as coach, she led West Mifflin to a 12-10 record and a loss to Indiana in the first round of the playoffs.

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