Majority of Greenbrier board votes ‘no’ to Jim Justice as boys basketball coach

Greenbrier County’s school board voted 3-2 against hiring Jim Justice, governor of West Virginia, as the next boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School.

The vote followed public statements by one of the basketball players, pleading with the board to hire someone who would put a full-time effort into the job.

“We deserve and want a full-time basketball coach, a coach that comes to all practices, not only games. We want someone who is going to care for us; we want someone who is going to put as much hard work and dedication as we do every day,” said John “Goose” Gabbert, a junior, who said his comments reflected the desires of his teammates.

Several Greenbrier East basketball players and their parents attended the meeting.

Gov. Jim Justice

About an hour after the decision was made, Justice spent the final few minutes of today’s regular pandemic briefing describing his disappointment at not being named coach.

“How do you feel? To be perfectly honest, anybody would feel some level of emptiness,” Justice said today, describing his coaching accomplishments over the years. “There’s no question whatsoever this is the worst of the worst from the standpoint of the kids. That’s what this is about in every way.”

The governor alleged board members reached their decision by personal preference or political preference.

“The board of education in Greenbrier County made a decision that will ultimately hurt, not me, but the kids,” he said.

Justice already coaches the girls basketball team at Greenbrier East, and his second term as governor lasts through 2024.

To balance everything, Justice earlier told MetroNews he would need to rely on assistant coaches.

“At my age, I’ll have to have great assistant coaches. And to be perfectly honest, they’ll have to do the work. I’ll coach the game,” he said. “Nevertheless I love the kids. That’s all there is to it.”

Justice has coached the Greenbrier East Lady Spartans since 2000 and has continued to do so while serving as governor.

He coached the boys team at the high school starting in 2010 but announced his retirement from that team in 2017, his first year in office as governor. Former professional basketball player Bimbo Coles took over that year but now has departed.

The board first considered Justice’s candidacy for the boys basketball job August 10 but tabled the decision. 

The basketball coaching hire was part of a broader set of personnel matters being considered by the board today. Board members went into executive session for about 10 minutes today. When they returned they discussed and voted on all the other personnel matters but agreed to consider the basketball coaching decision separately.

Then, board member Rick Parker asked for the coaching decision to be done through a role call vote.

Hazel Reed: “No.”

Mary Humprheys: “I vote yes.”

Kay Smith: “I vote no.”

Richard Parker: “Richard Parker votes no.”

Board President Jeannie Wyatt: “I vote yes.”

After the meeting, all the board members declined further comment.

Justice said he was asked by the Greenbrier County superintendent, Jeffrey Bryant, to consider coaching the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball team. Jeff Bryant is also the entertainment director at The Greenbrier Resort, owned by Justice and his family.

The principal at Greenbrier East, Ben Routson, last week released a statement saying Justice’s long and winning coaching record made him stand out as the best of six candidates for the job.

“Coach Justice excelled in the interview process and was the only applicant with head coaching experience at the high school varsity level,” he said.

When the search for a new coach began, Routson said all applicants were granted interviews, all with the same questions revolving around coaching experience, basketball philosophy and player and student development.

“By state law, the interview team is legally required to not discriminate and always recommend the most qualified applicant for hiring,” Routson stated.

“When considering the applicant pool, it is hard to ignore an applicant with almost 500 high school varsity wins at Greenbrier East High School, consistent postseason play and state tournament appearances and championships, including taking both the boys and girls basketball teams to the state tournament in the same year.”

Today, Justice twice generally described application of state law as it applies to applicants. It wasn’t clear if he was describing a grievance. If he was, an official complaint would need to be filed within 15 days. A level one grievance would go to the chief administrator, in this case the superintendent.

“From the standpoint of where we move forward and how we do things within our state, these are the very reasons that our employees across our state have laws. These are the very, very reasons. There could never be a more shining example. There’s no way,” Justice said today.

Coaching two basketball teams in Greenbrier County would mean spending multiple evenings a week there during the legislative session. Justice agreed earlier this year to a settlement that he would reside at the seat of government in Charleston, as the state Constitution requires.

Justice earlier told MetroNews his focus would be on the duties of governor, even if he got the coaching job.

“That’s my first and foremost responsibility,” he said. “I challenge anybody and everybody: Find something I’ve missed. I can tell you all the things that I’ve done. But find something I’ve missed — because I don’t miss every often. And I’m going to stay dead on top of that. That’s the number one honor and number one responsibility.”

Gabbert, the basketball player who approached the board today, said he thinks the next coach should focus on the team.

“I want you to think about the repercussions for us. We want a coach who is going to watch film, go out and scout the games and help us with on- and off-the-court issues.

He continued, “It’s not fair to us to have a coach that’s going to give a 50 percent effort when we give 100 percent. I’m going to say regardless of the outcome of today’s decision, I’m going to give 100 percent to this team and our goal is to win a state championship this year.”

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