Baranek: Johnson’s ouster at Morgan Park a real head-scratcher
Thomas Johnson is extremely proud of the eight years he served as girls basketball coach at Morgan Park.
He’s especially proud of the last four, during which the Mustangs went 94-28, advanced to three Public League tournament finals and one semifinal and also were sectional finalists three times and a semifinalist once.
But pride wasn’t what “T.J.” was feeling when discussing his recent removal by new principal Carolyn D. Epps.
“I’m very sad,” he said. “Even though there might have been some parents or players who didn’t care for me, while I was there I had numerous girls who (received) academic and athletic scholarships.
“That, to me, is where it is going to hurt not Morgan Park, per se, but it actually hurts the kids.”
Morgan Park athletic director Adrian Burrage confirmed Johnson no longer will be the head coach. The position will be filled by Kedonica Taylor, who was Johnson’s assistant the past five seasons, according to Burrage.
“The girls knew her and they liked her,” Burrage said. “She’s a good fit for them.”
Johnson isn’t the only coach in the Chicago Public School system to have lost a job in recent times. Budget cuts have resulted in several sad tales.
This one, though, is kind of strange.
I can’t give you Epps’ side of the story because she hasn’t returned phone calls or emails. Burrage was very helpful, but didn’t open up a real window to Epps’ motivation to fire Johnson.
But here’s Johnson’s version.
Johnson said he had seen Epps only briefly on one occasion since she was brought in during the spring. He said he called the school in June to set up a meeting. It never came about.
He said he called again in July, and this time he got an audience.
It started, Johnson claimed, with a question.
“When I get there, the AD asked me, ‘What’s going on with Trinity?’ ”
According to Johnson, Morgan Park had received a letter from Trinity claiming that payment never had been made for a summer league in which the Mustangs had competed at the school. Johnson said he filled out a check request on June 6, the check was sent out June 10 and it was cashed June 13.
This, according to Burrage, eventually was ironed out.
“The coach wanted the check made out to him, but it was made out to Trinity like it had been in previous years,” she said. “(Johnson) wasn’t at fault in that. Not at all.”
This, however, didn’t help Johnson at the meeting.
Johnson said that at the conclusion he was taken to a table and asked to read a letter.
“The letter said that I was no longer the coach at Morgan Park,” Johnson said. “I asked why, and (was told), ‘Going in a different direction.’ ”
Thus ended a pretty unhappy day for Thomas Johnson.
Johnson, who works at Orr High School as the athletic director and director of operations, said he doesn’t believe the Trinity misunderstanding brought his ultimate demise as Morgan Park’s coach.
“It has nothing to do with the check,” Johnson said. “The AD probably really didn’t care for me. She had talked to some kids and some parents, and of course, not everybody loves T.J. I don’t know if everybody loves any coach in America.”
I know this about Thomas Johnson. He was a passionate coach, a pretty good disciplinarian and won a heck of a lot of games during his career at Morgan Park.
I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody somewhere loves T.J. enough to put him back on the bench.