Editor's Note: Outgoing Crestview High School athletic director and head football coach Kevin Pettis recently sat down with the News Bulletin to answer some questions concerning his departure for Sebastian River High School.
Showing support for his new school, he spoke to Sports Editor Randy Dickson wearing a Sharks cap as he answered questions about various allegations and rumors circulating throughout his Crestview career.
Q: Why did you leave Crestview High for a job that reportedly pays several thousand dollars less?
A: It was just an opportunity for me to get back to where I'm used to coaching at. My son (Trey) wants us to go back to Central Florida.
I always thought that area — SebastianRiver and Vero Beach— is untested waters. Really, since the 1980s was the last time Vero really made a big splash, so I thought it was a lot like DeLand. We just wanted to get back to Central Florida and that's really the reason.
That's not a coach's answer — that's really the reason.
Were there off-the-field issues that were going on? Absolutely, and it's not me running from anything, but it just came up. Every year as a coach you look for other places. I guarantee you, every time a job comes open, if a guy ain't in the drop, he looks to see what is coming open.
I always thought I wanted to go back to Panama City (his hometown), but I'm in Panama City, really. It's not any different. I just wanted to go back to Central Florida.
Q: Do you believe you were forced out?
A: I wasn't forced out. Nobody told me I had to leave. Nobody told me to resign — no one.
I was talking with (Crestview Principal) Bob Jones and when the new superintendent (Mary Beth Jackson) came on board, Mr. Jones had a meeting with her. And after they had a meeting, he and I talked and he said there were some things that came up to her that they may want to investigate.
I said, "Let them investigate. I have nothing to hide."
But I was not forced out — absolutely not.
Q: Was there anything you could have done to salvage the situation and stay in Crestview?
A: I don't know that I could have done anything more than I was doing.
When a coach decides to leave, or thinks he's going to be looking — if, at any time in the process I thought Crestview was going to be my end spot, then yes, I would have found any number of a ways to salvage it. But I never thought Crestview was going to be my end spot.
From the day I got here, I knew I wasn't going to be here forever. It's one of those deals when you go 4-6, 4-6, you know .... and then you have (rumors about potential administration shakeups) and it was just one of those things: if this was the right time or was the timing right to leave — and I thought it was.
Q: Ed Coleman, the principal who hired you, was moved to another position in the school system shortly after you were hired. Did that have any effect on the last two years?
A: I've loved working for Mr. Jones. I want that to be on the record. I've loved working for Mr. Jones — he's good people.
I love sitting around talking basketball with him. He's a friend.
I love working with coach (Dexter) Day (CHS assistant principal); he's a great disciplinarian.
I thought it was a good work environment. The teachers here are great teachers. It was a great working environment.
But Mr. Coleman leaving when I first got hired — that does throw you back a little: the guy that hired you, he's gone.
When I got done with the interview (at Crestview) for the first time, I was driving home and I was going to stay at my lake house (in the area), but I said, 'I'm going to go all the way back to DeLand.'
The booster club at DeLand was calling me when I was on my way over here and they said, "You don't have to worry about it. We can get you close to the money they are giving you and a lot of different things."
I was taking it all in as I was going back and I just didn't feel right. And I told my wife when I got back, "I'm going to withdraw from the job. I don't want the job. Something is telling me to stay here."
There was something tugging at me and finally on Sunday, when my son left to go back to college and it about killed me ... and him being five hours away or whatever it is, and I said, "Dad gum, I'm going to get closer to Trey."
And I think I took the job for the wrong reason. Matt Brunson had asked me a question, and he asked, "If you take the money out of it, would you leave DeLand to come to Crestview?" And I said, "No."
I want to say this about these kids here. I disagree with what a lot of people say about these kids — they are great. They are phenomenal and I love everyone of them like they are my own kids.
But at the time I don't I think I came in here and it was heart and soul sunk into this thing. I think I had some doubts coming in.
I was just a guy that took a job.
Q: Have you told any Crestview football players to transfer to other schools in Okaloosa County?
A: False — absolutely false. The only thing I told those guys was, "I don't care what you think your intentions are right now, but whatever you are going to do, you have to get your bodies ready to play football next year."
Q: Do you believe the rumors that Crestview has already offered the job to someone and the search committee is a smoke screen?
A: False — I do not think they have.
Q: Were you in a local restaurant Feb. 14, wearing Sebastian River gear? When asked what you would do with your Crestview stuff, did you say, "I'll just put it in a (burn barrel) and take it down to the school and burn it?"
A: Did I say that? Yes, I said that. Was I joking? I was absolutely joking.
I said it to a friend, coaches, that said, "I want your gear."
And I said, "I'm not giving you this gear, I'm going to burn it all." That was just a joke, it had nothing to do with Crestview, and it was nothing serious.
Q: Some say an iPad was promised to the player who sold the most Bulldog cards during the fall football fundraiser. As the story goes, the iPad was paid for with discretionary funds the Quarterback Club keeps. Is there truth to that?
A: No, the kid got his iPad and it was paid through an individual. The iPad was never promised through the program, it was promised through the means that I don't want to say.
Another individual in this community said that whoever sold the most, he'd give them an iPad, and he didn't come through with it so another member of the Quarterback Club did.
Q: At any time in your two years at Crestview did you mishandle or misappropriate athletic department funds?
A: Never. The rumor that got to Mrs. Jackson was that I was spending Quarterback Club money without their permission — that's what the charge was and that's impossible to do.
Anybody associated with the school knows that even though I'm the athletic director, I can't spend baseball club money.
I can't spend Quarterback Club money. That thing has got to come through the Quarterback Club and it's got to be voted on.
Here's the thing that people have got to understand: money goes to an internal account, and for you to be able to take that money, there are a lot of checks and balances. It's got to be approved by the book keeper. It has to be approved by the principal and he has to sign the check.
For anyone to misappropriate funds in the school, there would have to be a lot of people in on that deal.
It would have to be the bookkeeper, the principal, the vendors — they would all have to be in cahoots to make that happen. It's totally impossible for anyone to make that happen.
Not just for me, for anyone — especially with the bookkeeper we have at Crestview, Barbbi Demara. She's phenomenal.
Q: Who do you think is behind those rumors?
A: I don't know. I don't think it really matters.
Would I like to know? The good ole boy in me would love to know, but I don't know. I have no idea.
Q: What really happened in the incident last summer between Dakota Dean and (then assistant football coach) Blake Moore?
A: I was not there.
Q: Was there a cover-up to protect Blake Moore?
A: I don't think so.
I was up in the front office, seeing if stuff had come in from what we had ordered, and I'm driving back (in a golf cart) and I see Mrs. (Georgina) Dean. She comes up and asks me what happened between her son and Blake, and I said, "I have no idea."
So I go back inside and ask, "Hey, did anything happen between Blake and Dakota Dean?" And a couple of them said, "Yeah, they were wrestling up there on the stadium."
I said, "They was doing more than wrestling because I just got blasted. So we need to get them back (to the school)."
So I called Blake and said, "I need you to come back to the school." I called Dakota and said, "Could you come back to the school?"
I said to Dakota, "Call your mom and have her come back."
So we sat down and Blake apologized. He went through what had happened and she said, "You’re forgiven, and everything is fine."
They leave, and I said to Blake, "This is going to seem very cruel to you, but I need to go turn you in ... because we have to have this thing go through the channels. This is going to protect the program."
(Principal Bob Jones) is out of town so I take him to (Crestview Assistant Principal Dexter) Day and said (to Moore), 'Tell him what happened.'
I told Blake, "The best thing for you to do is not be around until all of these things is over with and they finish doing what they are doing."
I called Mr. (Mike) Dean up several times and talked to him eight or nine times that night on the phone.
He called me and said, "Did you know that he (Moore) was choking Dakota?" I said, "No, that was never told to me."
He (Mike Dean) said, "He (Moore) was choking him (Dakota Dean)."
I said, "I have not heard that."
The next day, they have the county people come down and everybody writes a statement. There were coaches there and players there and they all put in their statements.
The next day, Coach Day comes out there (the field house) and asked me were Blake was. I said, "I told him not to come back until all of this was over."
He (Day) said, "It's over and he (Moore) is fine to come back."
And then it wasn't over — it lingered on.
It lingered on for more than two months into the season, and I don't know that it's over yet. I'm not privy to that information.
So do I think there was a cover up? Not at the (football) program level.
As a school, I thought we did it the only way we could do it. I followed the procedure. I followed school board policy to the T.
Q: Did you ever physically abuse football players by bending their fingers back or grabbing them by the wrist and making them slap themselves in the face— or any other way?
A: No. Did I horseplay with them? Absolutely. Did they horseplay with me? Absolutely — that's part of the whole deal. But there was no abuse on any student any way at all.
Q: Did you ever verbally abuse players?
A: Did I scream and yell? Probably, yes. This past year, absolutely not. We were absolutely told after the whole Coach Moore incident that we are not to touch those kids — lovingly or in anger — so we didn't, and it changed our whole style of coaching, absolutely.
Q: What would you say to other local coaches who have accused your players of playing dirty and taking cheap shots during 7-on-7 last summer? (7-on-7 involves summer scrimmages in which players wear shorts, T-shirts and helmets.)
A: I'd laugh. Taking cheap shots during 7-on-7?
Q: A coach told me that one of his players had to get stitches from a cheap shot by one of your players during a 7-on-7 league. Do you know anything about that?
A: The only player that had to get stitches was a Freeport player that came to our school for 7-on-7. There wasn't nothing cheap about the play — the kid's helmet came off.
One of our coaches, I think, even went to the hospital with him. But, no, I think it (the accusation of cheap shots) is laughable at best.
How can you cheap-shot during a 7-on-7?
If our kids play hard, and I even believe a cheap shot would be playing after a whistle or ... when a kid is suspended in mid-air with no pads on, to hit him — anything that's outside the rules, that's cheap. But I can't remember them doing anything after the whistle.
They played hard and they played to the whistle, and they played the way we asked them to play — so I would say that would be false.
Q: Did you knowingly play an ineligible player and did you try to cover that up?
A: No. It did not happen.
The kid is ... a phenomenal kid. After we had a student that was killed on the highway coming back (to town), that was our backup kicker. He was killed and we had the funeral one of those days.
He came up to me after the funeral and asked me if he could come out and kick. I said, “Sure, you can come out and kick.”
I said, "We've got a game this week." There was a game that day — Miltonor something. Any way, I said, "Sure, you can come out and kick.”
So, the next week I checked his eligibility. I got his physical, and his (weighted) GPA was a 2.15.
Well, I didn't look at his unweighted GPA. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Jones comes down there and says, "You know, the kid is ineligible."
I said, "No, he has a 2.15, I remember that because I put it in."
He (Jones) said, "No, that's his weighted GPA."
And my exact words were, "Are you telling me a kid with a 2.1 is taking weighted classes? It doesn't make sense to me, but if he's ineligible, he's ineligible, and I'll let him know."
He was on the practice field and I called him over and said, "Hey, I'm sorry you can't play. You're ineligible."
I said, "They are going to ask you questions and you make sure you tell the truth." And I went on back to practice.
Mr. Jones came back out there and said, "We've just got to self-report this and send an email to the district office and the state of Florida because even if he's dressed (for a game), he's an ineligible player."
And he had dressed, since, I think, the Bolles game or something like that.
So he (Jones) goes out there and talks to him (the player) and he tells them I think, he played against Bolles.
I didn't think anything of it. We self-reported and got fined and it was not a big deal.
So Mr. Jones comes back and said, "There's some evidence he played in Escambia." I said, "Well, let's see if he played in Escambia."
So Mr. Day comes up and says someone slipped a DVD by his house, they dropped it in his mailbox and he picked it up from there.
He said, "Did the kid play?"
I immediately sent them every clip the kid kicked in.
I knew somebody was trying to stab us from the inside. I don't know who it was and I don't care.
First of all, let me ask you this question, "How can you cover up something you self-report?"
Q: That would depend on whether you reported everything, right?
A: We did.
Now I want to show you something (pulls out his phone and shows footage of ineligible player on the field). This is what they said I took off Hudl (a sports website).
If I want somebody to have a Hudl account and to see any of this stuff, I email it to you and there is a playlist available.
This (play being shown on phone) is him (the ineligible player) kicking off. Now that is on the internet and you can Google that. So that's what I did, Randy, and it wasn't try to cover it up or keep it off.
Any time I want somebody to have our games, I can share it with everyone. That means a kid or a parent can click on there and they can pull the game up.
When I knew someone was trying to (sabotage me), I just didn't share (the footage) with anybody. I just put it in another file and I sent it to coach Day and Bob Jones.
So it wasn't a cover-up, as far as trying to get out of trouble. I mean, if somebody is out there trying to stab you in the back, I'm just trying to take away ammunition.
But it was never not on the computer. It was never not on the internet. And every kick that kid made was sent to Bob Jones and we turned it in.
We didn't have to forfeit a game. And whoever that pissed off, it pissed them off because it didn't make the paper, because if we would have had to forfeit a game, it probably would have made the paper.
Q: How do you explain the high turnover in your coaching staff with the number of veteran coaches that have left the program?
A: You've got to look at the coaches. Coach (Tim) Dixon retired. He did 36 years. Coach (Barry) Koehn retired after his first year with me. The only coach I let go was coach (Chip) Weems.
I just felt like bringing in younger coaches at that time was good for us and those are the only coaches that we lost — unless you have others you can think of.
Jay (Sanders) didn't coach the freshmen because he was trying to get into administration and I've got his son (Matt Sanders) on. But everybody else left because of retirement. Everybody wanted to stay.
It was one of those deals where I was promised to bring in coaches. Ed Coleman (former Crestview principal) told me, "You can bring two for sure." I didn't get to bring any coaches. They told me once I got here, I couldn't bring them in.
And then when Koehn retired, we got Kathy Combest (volleyball, girls basketball and current softball coach, who previously was at Baker) in that spot. Part of being the AD is get the best coaches I can get.
It was — I don't know — there ain't nothing I can do about people retiring, but I only made one change.
Q: On signing day, you encouraged returning players to keep Crestview relevant. Do you really believe that having two seasons where you are 4-6 and 2-3 in district makes Crestview relevant?
A: What I meant to them about being relevant is they have to keep doing the things that they are supposed to be doing like working out.
You've got to understand there that for a while, they went almost the whole month of February without working out because of all this (news of Pettis’ departure) going on.
There are a lot of kids that get signed (from losing teams). Mike Gillislee (former Florida running back), he was on a 0-10 DeLand team. He's about to make millions of dollars in the (National Football League) draft coming up (in April), so yes, I think they can be relevant.
Q: You talked about winning championships and getting rings when you were hired, but as things have gone downhill, you seem to have focused more on the number of kids getting scholarships.
Would that be a fair observation?
A: I've always said, "Nobody has to run me off. I'll leave if I don't think I can get it done.”
I could have scheduled Paxton or West Gadsden and been 6-4, just like (what) had gone on the year before me. That's not what I wanted to do.
I wanted these kids to ... play in big games. And by God, they got to play in some big games and it was fun.
It won't change whether we had gone 8-2, 6-4, 4-6, 3-7, 1-9 — I don't care. I'm still going to market my kids and that still becomes a relevant issue. Something I feel like our staff did a great job of was getting kids scholarships.
But that's not going to change anywhere I go. It was the same thing when I was at DeLand. It was same thing when I was at Dr. Phillips and Pacelli — we just sign a lot of kids.
It’s unfair to the kids that are signing and their families to tie it in to wins and losses. It's not all wins and losses— I don't think that.
As coaches, we look at a lot more than that. We felt like we closed the gap on a lot of schools other than Godby and Niceville.
A couple of calls (by officials) were tough to handle.
It's one of those deals where you take a play here or there and we are 7-3 or whatever, but we felt like we beat Navarre.
We were right there with Navarre and Fort Walton and Mosley. We just felt like we were right there with everybody in our area.
The wins and losses to a coach are still the most important thing. But it ain't those kids' fault we went 4-6.
Q: Isn't that like Phillip Fulmer claiming he should still have a job at Tennessee because even though the Volunteers weren't winning, he was sending guys to the NFL where they would get paid?
A: That's right — but those things are two separate issues, in my opinion. We didn't try to get kids signed to save our jobs.
If that was the case, I wouldn't be sending out emails to help a baseball player right now. I mean, I'm already gone, but I'm still helping all my kids and I'm still helping every other sport up there if they need my help. I'm still doing that....
If that was a way of keeping my job, I would have stopped doing that as soon as I left.
Q: Have you second-guessed yourself about the quarterback situation, playing Dakota Davis over Dakota Dean?
A: No, I haven't second-guessed myself. He (Dean) was without question our best football player and it was one of those deals where I feel like we played the best 11 the full time at every position.
Q: Even though you don't have your best football player at the most important position (quarterback) on the field?
A: We didn't feel like that was the most important position on the field. We felt like we would be wasting him, handing off to (tailback) Micah (Reed). Anybody can hand off to Micah.
Our best shot to win football games this year was to put everything in our defense's hands. So we felt like we knew what type of offense we would have because of our personnel. We knew we were going to have a young O line and I wasn't going to stick our best player on defense drop back (to pass as the quarterback on offense) and have a bunch of young guns trying to block for him.
We felt like our best offense was to hand the ball to Micah, we needed Dakota (Dean) on defense, and we needed our other players on offense.
Q: Were you put on administrative leave these last few weeks?
Q: If you could give any advice to Crestview’s next athletic director and head football coach, what would it be?
A: I wouldn't be comfortable giving advice because I don't think I could be helpful. My advice would not be helpful.
Q: Anything you want to add?
A: I hope these kids have a great year and I wish them all the success in the world. I don't want anything but success for Crestview High School and the kids and everybody else.
I wish them all the good in the world.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524