Doug Crandall coaching during a game. Courtesy of Free Doug Facebook page.

Issaquah School District’s basketball coach turnover rate goes beyond Doug Crandall

Crandall resigned from his position as head basketball coach on Jan. 24.

Doug Crandall vividly remembers the events from Dec. 6, 2021, the day he was placed on paid administrative leave at Issaquah High School. The Bellevue native who taught leadership at West Point has coached children’s sports for the past 20 years, but all that came to a standstill. Following the Dec. 6 events, Crandall resigned as head coach of IHS varsity girls’ basketball team due to duress.

Right before the start of the final basketball game he coached on Dec. 3, 2021, IHS’s athletic director approached Crandall and mentioned he needed to communicate differently with players, according to Crandall. After the game, Crandall described stepping into the athletic director’s office.

“I said to him, ‘Luke, what’s going on? Am I going to get fired or something?’” said Crandall. “You know, just thinking catastrophic, catastrophic worst-case scenario. And he actually laughed out loud, he was like, ‘No, it’s nothing like that. Just have a good weekend. We’ll talk Monday.’”

At around 2:30p.m. Dec. 6, Crandall had his keys taken and was told he needed to leave the school’s grounds immediately, according to Crandall, who also stated he was told that he could no longer communicate with his players.

“This was one of the few more traumatic moments of my life,” said Crandall. “I had no idea this was going to happen. I thought I was coming in to talk about something small. I had no idea what I’d done.”

Crandall brought up how in March 2021, one of his son’s closest friends took their life, which was one of the most difficult things his family had been through.

“I did tell these kids, and I told them intentionally and transparently, that if you’re in the Issaquah girls’ basketball program, you are going to know that we care about you,” said Crandall. “You’re going to know that you’re loved. And I started to use the word love.”

Crandall mentioned how COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of many youth, and that it became his mission to ensure that his players knew that they were loved.

“That’s what I thought maybe this was about. They’re going to tell me I can’t use the word love,” said Crandall.

After dealing with uncertainty, Crandall discovered that he received allegations of misconduct, with zero idea of what those allegations were, and that he would be investigated by the district.

According to Crandall, as time went on, he continued to press the school district to find out more about why he was being investigated, and when the investigation would take place.

“They changed the rationale in early January and said something like, you know, legal speak, ‘there are certain things that have to be investigated, and so, we have to proceed with an investigation,’” said Crandall. “So about early January, they completely dropped the notion there was an allegation.”

Crandall’s most recent communication with the district was on Jan. 21. According to Crandall, the district informed him that a formal allegation or written complaint does not need to be in place for ISD to investigate, and there was a concern about his interaction with students.

“At this point I honestly feel like I’m being investigated for the relationships I’ve built with my players,” said Crandall.

Since being placed on paid administrative leave, Crandall described how he has received increasing threats from ISD. Initially he was told he could only speak with his spouse, doctor, lawyer, and minister. As he continued to reach out to board members, he was told that he was not allowed to reach out to the district about the investigation, according to Crandall.

“They said, ‘Your contract terminates automatically’—that was the verbiage they used, ‘terminates automatically on February 1 and we can no longer control what you do after that’,” said Crandall. “Almost letting me know, ‘Hey, once you’re not employed anymore you can be free,’ like baiting me into that.”

Crandall does not believe ISD ever planned on investigating, and believes they were pushing him to resign through increased threats and directives about what he could not do.

“I asked for permission to go to Senior Night, and they used the word ‘trespassing,’ like basically implying that if you show up, we could charge you with trespassing, while I’m an employee of the district,” said Crandall.

For the seven weeks that followed his leave, Crandall did not hear anything from ISD about the alleged investigation.

“I’ve spent seven weeks, because my family and friends could attest, going to every corner of my mind wondering what I did, what this is about,” said Crandall. “They’re not telling me, and they won’t tell me anything. I have to go to every corner of my mind and think about what it might be about. And there was a period where I didn’t sleep two nights at a time, and I would crash on the third night out of exhaustion.”

Regardless of the alleged investigation, Crandall feels like he’s been treated as a criminal and still deserves an element of respect and decency, which he says he has not received from ISD. On Jan. 24, Crandall resigned from his position due to duress.

“It’s been awful. You’re accused of something, and you have no idea what that is, and it comes out of nowhere, and I couldn’t possibly care about these kids more than I do or having loved the job of coaching anymore than I do,” said Crandall. “And all of a sudden, it’s taken away from me because of an allegation of misconduct, and I don’t know what that is.”

Comment from school district

The Issaquah Reporter reached out to ISD for comment and received this response:

“We received your media inquiry regarding girls’ basketball coach Doug Crandall. At this time, here is the information we can provide as it relates to your request:

• Coach Crandall was placed on paid administrative leave pending an ongoing internal employment investigation.

• The leave was non-disciplinary in nature and coaching duties are being handled by other staff, including Kathy Gibson.

• The District understands that this cannot resolve all disruption to the program but is pleased Coach Gibson was available.

• As this relates to an internal personnel matter, and out of respect for that process and privacy of those potentially involved, the District cannot comment further.”

#FreeDoug

Parents and players quickly began to speak out against ISD’s actions during the alleged investigation. A GoFundMe page was put in place to assist Crandall with lawyer fees, and a FreeDoug Facebook page was opened. At an Issaquah School District Board meeting on Jan. 13, players sat in the front row in their uniforms, and a handful of players and parents expressed themselves to the board.

At the most recent ISD board meeting on Jan. 27, two parents wearing “FreeDoug” T-shirts spoke up. Aiyana Meisner, who started the GoFundMe page, shared her voice in front of the district for the second time.

“Last time I spoke about mental health, and how detrimental this has been for the Issaquah basketball girls, and I begged for some clarity about the process that keeps being referenced but nobody has seen any sign of,” said Meisner. “Since that time, Doug has submitted resignation under duress for the rest of the season. That is the only move in these last two months that has been made with the best interest of the girls’ mental state in mind. Not because they lost their beloved coach, but because it put a stop to the never-ending limbo and uncertainty they were experiencing due to the inaction of the Issaquah School District.”

Kathy Dillon is the mother of Shea Dillon, one of the varsity basketball players. She has two older children who also played sports at IHS and has seen a large turnover rate in the number of head coaches for the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.

“When you have this constant turnover at the top, it really puts the whole program in chaos, disarray, and lack of consistency in anything,” said Kathy Dillon. “It’s tough on the kids. Because of what happened this year to the girls’ basketball team at Issaquah, they have had four head coaches just this season.”

According to Dillon, there have been 10 head coaches across the boys’ and girls’ basketball programs at IHS in the past six seasons.

The Issaquah Reporter reached out to ISD for a list of names of coaches over the past 10 years, and received this response on Jan. 26, with no further correspondence: “Confirming that I have this request in, waiting on some details.”

“It has taken an incredible emotional toll on them: psychologically, their mental health. There has been this uncertainty, this angst that has filled them,” said Dillon. “When it first happened on Dec. 6, as a mom, to receive a call from your child where she is crying uncontrollably, she can’t get the words out because they were warming up for practice and Doug wasn’t there, and all of a sudden the athletic director came in and said, ‘Hey guys Doug is not your coach anymore, he’s actually not allowed to have any contact with you, we’ll figure out who’s going to be your next coach’ and walked out.”

Dillon and Crandall described how the athletic director asked the three seniors on the team who they wanted to coach them, which they both described as placing the responsibility of finding a new coach on the 17-year-old players.

“To have them feel like the burden is on them to come up with options for who should coach them, that was tough,” said Dillon.

Kathy Gibson stepped up to lead the team, and Dillon believes that if this happens to other programs, players will not be as lucky. Dillon brought up the impact the pending investigation had on her daughter.

“Every day she would come home from school, ‘I didn’t get called in today, I don’t know what’s going on. Mom, when do you think I’m going to get called in? Mom, did you get a call from the district?’” said Dillon.

Dillon wishes the district told the girls that they would not be interviewed, and brought up how no one had any line of sight to any steps of the process of what would happen. After Crandall’s resignation, he was allowed to step foot on IHS grounds again.

“He attended his first home game on Issaquah School District property last night [Jan. 26]. The girls played Eastlake — an undefeated team — and they won,” said Dillon. “I think that they were playing their hearts out because Doug was there. Even though he wasn’t there as a coach, he was purely there as a spectator sitting in the stands, but just being able to see him again and talk to him again, it just buoyed their spirits so much.”

Dillon believes the stability of having his presence allowed the girls to play better than they have since his departure on Dec. 6.

A similar circumstance

IHS and Skyline High School have seen 20 head coaches on boys’ and girls’ basketball teams over the past decade, according to Meisner’s GoFundMe page for Crandall. Bill McIntyre, who coached the Skyline boys’ basketball team from 2014-2015, shares a similar experience to that of Crandall’s.

“I kind of know what happened but at the same time, I had coached for two years prior to that, well actually four years prior to that in the Issaquah School District as an assistant at Liberty High School, then as a head coach at Pine Lake Middle School, and on both of those left on my own,” said McIntyre.

McIntyre is currently employed at ISD and is coaching at Pine Lake Middle School this year. During his time coaching at Skyline, he was told by the principal at the time that there was a “conflict of interest,” and that his contract would not be renewed.

“I felt I knew what was going on so it would’ve been nice to have confirmed it, or I suppose I would’ve wished that maybe there had been a workaround, something we could’ve worked through that would’ve allowed me to remain, but that obviously was somebody else’s decision and if they even thought it through that far, they obviously chose that wasn’t the direction that they wanted to go,” said McIntyre. “They had obviously made up their minds for they thought it was best to not renew the contract.”

McIntyre mentioned how he was not told what the conflict of interest was and has never received closure for the Issaquah School District’s actions during his time at Skyline.

A look at IHS’s basketball head coach turnover rate

During the last decade, the Issaquah High School’s girls’ and boys’ varsity basketball teams have gone through 11 different coaches, including interim.

IHS girls’ basketball coaches:

· Kathy Gibson (2006-2013)

· Bob Richey (2013-2014)

· Nicole Reid (2014-2015 with the assistance of Gibson)

· Jackie Bykonen (2015-2019)

· Doug Crandall (2019-2022)

· Kerri Jensen (2021-2022; interim coach)

· Kathy Gibson (2021-2022; interim coach)

IHS boys’ basketball coaches:

· Jason Griffith (2010-2016)

· Chris Lyle (2016-2017; dismissed prior to start of season; co-coaches, including Mitch Boyer for the season)

· Patrick De Smet (2017- 2018)

· Brad Valentine (2018-2022)

“We feel there is a systemic issue that’s occurring within the Issaquah School District that I really want to help uncover what the issues are, and what we can do to support changes to fix that because a coach is a stabilizing influence in any athletes life,” said Dillon.

Dillon brought up how something has been amiss between head basketball coaches and the school district. She questions whether the catching and releasing of head coaches is due to recruitment or hiring issues, the district being too responsive to disgruntled parents without thoroughly investigating, or perhaps a lapse in communication.

“We aren’t giving our coaches any feedback on how to get better,” said Dillon. “Instead, it seems like if there is a misstep in any way, they are put on paid administrative leave and then their contract is not renewed.”

Parents and players refuse to give up looking for answers and hope to have Crandall back as head coach next year.

On Dec. 14, Crandall opened a public records request to better understand why he is allegedly being investigated by the district and said he will receive those records by Feb. 10.

“It’s just hard to believe you would treat anybody like this, and yet they’ve done it to coaches again and again over the last decade plus,” said Crandall.


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ISD's response to the Doug Crandall investigation.

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