By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When a college basketball coach leaves one school and goes to the next, there’s always this one predominant complaint: What about the kids?
It’s safe to say the same thing has to happen on the high school level as well.
Recently, Bill Schoener handed in his resignation letter to the powers-that-be in the Kearny Board of Education, stepping down as the head boys’ basketball coach after just one season.
The reason? Schoener has taken a position as the new head coach at a Bergen County private school called Saddle River Day, a school that has gone a long way to trying to become a better athletic institution than it was when it was known as Saddle River Country Day, sounding more like a summer camp than a high school.
Schoener gave no indication to Kearny athletic director John Millar that he was pursuing other coaching opportunities. “
Absolutely not,” Millar said. “I had no indication whatsoever. It wasn’t like Saddle River Day called me and said that they were pursuing my basketball coach. It caught me totally offguard.”
And it’s left Millar with the difficult task of trying to find a suitable replacement in the middle of the summer, when most programs are in the midst of summer camps, summer leagues and summer training.
“It’s not easy,” Millar said. “The timing was not good at all. Even if we knew a little earlier, the timing still wouldn’t have been good.”
Schoener said that he wasn’t actively pursuing other opportunities, although it was learned that he did in fact interview for the opening at Harrison.
“I definitely wasn’t actively looking,” Schoener said. “I liked it in Kearny. I thought we were going in the right direction.”
But Schoener said that Saddle River Day called him in for an interview.
“I was one of 40 who were being interviewed,” Schoener said. “When I got there, I fell in love with the place.”
One of the reasons why Schoener took the job was that the school offered him lower tuition for his daughter, Alyssa, who recently graduated grammar school.
“That was the clincher for me,” Schoener said. “She’s already been accepted there. It’s like no place I’ve ever seen. My other daughter is in the sixth grade and hopefully she’ll go there as well. The school has great kids, great facilities.”
Incredibly, that’s what Schoener said in August of 2012, when he decided to take the Kearny job.
“It’s a school close to where I live (Rutherford),” Schoener said last August. “It’s a larger school that has had success in other sports. They play in a better league, a very good basketball league (the HCIAL). The facilities are great. It’s everything you can want. Plus, there are a lot of pieces in place.”
Schoener came to Kearny after two years at Queen of Peace and four years at Becton Regional.
“But I felt it was time to get a new challenge,” Schoener said last August. “Kearny is a bigger program. We have 35 kids in the program. I like the numbers game. I like having more kids to work with.”
Schoener said that he took the job at Saddle River Day last Monday. A day later, he went to meet with Millar.
“I sat down and he knew right away something was up,” Schoener said. “I was so uncomfortable about talking about the situation, but I knew I had to do it. I felt terrible about it. John was great to me. If I needed gym time, he never said no. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and this was one.”
Schoener has still yet to meet with his former players.
“I still haven’t been able to do that,” Schoener said. “It’s not going to be easy. I like those kids. I really do. I wasn’t unhappy at Kearny.”
Schoener was asked if he felt he was letting the current Kearny players down by leaving after one year. Schoener guided the Kardinals to a 5-22 record last season.
“I guess that’s the way you can look at it, that I was there for only a year and then leave,” Schoener said. “But this wasn’t a basketball decision. This was a family decision. At the end of the day, family came first.”
Schoener’s assistant, Jimmy Mahre, has been doing the brunt of the summer work with the Kardinals, coaching them in the Bloomfield summer league and taking them to the Garfield team camp.
“I hope Jimmy gets the job,” Schoener said. “He’s a great candidate. He’ll do everything I did. He was a great assistant. He’ll carry on and then some. I thought we were turning things around and in a place to get things going. There was an upside.”
“We’ve already started with Jimmy two nights a week,” Millar said. “Some things are already in place. It’s not like the kids are out there on their own.”
But who’s to say that Mahre, if he gets the job, won’t leave after a year?
“There are never any guarantees,” Millar said. “It’s just the way it is. We have to move forward to find someone who is a good fit for us, someone who will give us some years. That’s what we’re looking for.”
That’s what Millar thought he had a year ago when he hired Schoener. He was wrong.
“I thought the kids responded well to Bill,” Millar said. “I thought they enjoyed playing for him. I think that was evident both in practices and in games. I think they were looking forward to a new season with some new varsity players. We thought we were approaching an improved season.”
Millar said that he has already begun the process to hire a new basketball coach. This comes on the heels of having to hire a new football coach, which the school did with Nick Edwards.
“I think we’ll have our fair share of interested people,” Millar said. “I think we’ll be okay. Hopefully, by the July Board meeting (July 22), we can make an appointment. At least, we’re going to try.”
Here’s the last quote that comes from Schoener’s interview here last August.
“I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think we can win games,” Schoener said. “I went to Becton and people said I couldn’t win there. I loved my team in Becton and I am sure I’ll love this team as well. It was time to move on. I’m excited about this challenge. I’m going to like playing the Hudson County schools. It’s great to have a bigger program. Let’s see what happens.”
What happened is that Schoener left before he could experience any changes – and left Millar in the lurch, scrambling once again to find a new boys’ basketball coach after less than a full year.