Thomas (Mule) Johnson, who claimed he was illegally fired as head football coach at Anacostia High School last year, has won the right to be reinstated through an arbitration proceeding.
Arbitrator Arnold Ordman ruled the reasons given for the firing by Anacostia Principal Russell Lombardy - mainly that Johnson was not an Anacostia faculty member - were not strong enough to warrant the dismissal and said that Johnson, an elementary physical education teacher at Terry-Simmons School in Northwest Washington, should be reinstated immediatelY.
However, since the ruling came long after the April 30 deadline for reassignment of coaches for the upcoming season, Lombardy said he did not see how Johnson could be reappointed coach this year.
And Johnson is not sure he wants the job. "I have a clear conscience, but right now I'm just not sure if I want to go back or not," he said.
"Because of Johnson, I opened all my coaching positions last April 30," said Lombardy, who has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal at the Southeast school for the last 20 years. "Johnson wasn't here to apply, so how can he get the job?"
Charles Weaver, the athletic director, handled the coaching duties with Alan Chin last year while Johnson was filing a grievance with the D.C. school system. Chin was appointed head coach this year.
"As far as I know, I will coach the team all season," said Chin. "We've already been out here practicing a week and we haven't seen Johnson."
The fact that Johnson is not a member of the Anacostia faculty was a prime reason cited by Lombardy for not rehiring Johnson last year.
"He wasn't in the building when he was needed," said Lombardy. "He teaches at another school and the (Washington Teachers) union contract said teachers work until 3:15 each day. How was he going to get here on time? I had misgivings in hiring him that first year. Things just didn't work out and things haven't changed this year. He still wouldn't get here on time."
Lombardy also said Johnson had alienated the other coaches in the building and that none of them would assist him. Johnson had been admonished for failing to cooperate with the media and college coaches.
Under Johnson Anacostia finished 6-4. The indians compiled the same record under Chin and Weaver last year.
After Johnson was fired, he took his complaint to the union, which filed a grievance with the school system. The Labor Relations Board of the system ruled in favor of Lombardy and Johnson decided to go to arbitration.
"I would have gone to Supreme Court if necessary. I worked hard there and Mr. Lombardy had no reason to fire me," said Johnson, who served at Anacostia as an assistant coach under Wyman Colona seven years and for a year under Steve Powell before he was elevated to the head coaching position. "I didn't do anything wrong and I know Mr. Lombardy was making a bad mistake."
The players who supported Johnson boycotted the first day a brief meeting with Lombardy, Chin and Weaver, the disgruntled players went to practice.
Despite the arbitrator's favorable ruling, Johnson said he isn't sure what he will do.
"I felt Mr. Lombardy should have sent me a letter or something offering me the job back," said Johnson. "I haven't heard from him and it doesn't make sense to me to go to him and apply for a job I was fired from."
"We realize the arbitration wasnt finalized until well after the April 30 date. But it doesn't matter," said Harold Fisher, assistant to the president of the union. "It seems whenever the union wins a case in favor of a teacher we have to blow the roof off to get some results. If the teacher owed the system some money, I bet a letter would have been mailed out immediately. The job belongs to Johnson but it appears Lombardy is refusing to accept the decision."