by Andrew Garda

Has the first domino fallen for Montclair High School coaching departures?

Since the Board of Education’s decision to not renew former athletic director Jeff Gannon’s contract, the social media discussion for many parents and athletes has been that high school sports programs could see multiple good coaches leaving the district because of uncertainty about their own futures.

Girls basketball coach Paul Palek is the first to make that a reality.

Palek resigned as head coach for the girls varsity basketball team in June, and the uncertainty of the future of the athletic director position played a part in his decision. Palek leaves MHS with a 29-26 overall record, 13-11 in the division.

“Because of the restructuring of the athletic department,” Palek said, “they were making it a little difficult for the out-of-district coaches to come back and coach. At the same time, where I teach, the boys [coach] job opened up. So it was perfect timing taking the boys job where I teach.”

Palek will be coaching the boys team at Manchester Regional High School in Haledon, New Jersey. He teaches at the Haledon School, a K-8 school, in Haledon.

For coaching jobs at Montclair High School, preference is given to those who teach and work in the district.

MHS coaches are signed to one-year contracts, so, like many coaches of winter and spring sports, Palek was going to have to interview for the job again, and Interim Athletic Director Mike Miello, who began working on June 21, indicated in early July that the process of solidifying coaches for winter and spring would not be taking place until sometime in the fall.

That left a chance that Palek would find himself without a coaching job at a time when there would be few, if any, openings elsewhere.

“Nobody could guarantee a spot, so I didn’t want to put in all the time over the summer like we did last year and come to find out late in the game that I had no job when it’s impossible to find another one.”

Palek said that the opportunity at Manchester Regional came along at a perfect time, and he is looking forward to working and coaching in the same school.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to teach and coach in the same place, had that little convenience,” he said.

The Falcons are coming off a 13-10 season and looking for a fresh start.

That doesn’t mean he was cavalier about the decision, or that he didn’t regret having to make it.

“I had a great job. I enjoyed my time in Montclair,” Palek said. “It was bittersweet. I think if it wasn’t for the restructuring and everything I probably would have stayed, but it is what it is. They couldn’t guarantee me I was going to be back, and [the process] was going to go into the fall. That’s why I wanted to make sure I had a job for next year. So, I took the new one and off we go.”

While Palek prepares for his new job, the MHS girls basketball team is without a coach. As Palek indicated, summer workouts weren’t run and there will be no new coach until sometime this fall. Given that the search is already under way for a new athletic director — although as of press time the job posting has been removed from the district website — coaches will have no indication as to their actual status until that is settled.

Palek’s situation isn’t an unusual one. Several coaches for both winter and spring sports are not employed by the district, including the boys tennis, fencing, crew, and girls lacrosse coaches.

As the search for a new athletic director continues, it remains to be seen if other coaches who do not teach in the district follow Palek’s lead.