West Virginia Governor Jim Justice believes he can expertly carry out the responsibilities of the state’s chief executive, navigate his family businesses through a financial crisis and coach the Greenbrier East girls and boys high school basketball teams—simultaneously.
How to put this politely: Justice does not lack for confidence.
But that confidence is not shared by all. Yesterday, the Greenbrier County Board of Education voted 3-2 not to hire Justice as the boys coach. Justice responded by saying the players will suffer for the decision.
“There is 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,” Justice said.
However, one Greenbrier East player told the board Monday that their coach should make a full-time commitment to the team. (Justice has said he would coach the games and leave practices to the assistants.)
“We deserve and want a full-time basketball coach that comes to all the practices, not only the games,” said John “Goose” Gabbert, a junior on the team, who said that his comments reflected the views of his teammates.*
“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,” he said.
Gabbert did not mention Justice by name, but his point was clear. “I want you to think about the repercussions for us,” Gabbert told the board. “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.”
Justice previously coached the boys team from 2010 to 2017. He stepped away from that position after he was elected Governor for the first time. However, he stayed on as the coach of the girls team, a position he has held since 2000.
Greenbrier East Principal Ben Routson, in recommending Justice, cited his “head coaching experience at the high school varsity level” and his nearly 500 victories.
But for Gabbert, it was more about commitment than wins and losses. “It is not fair to us to have a coach that’s going to give 50 percent effort when we give 100 percent,” he said.
Justice may not have gotten the message from the player or the board. He has implied that he may file a grievance since both the county superintendent and the school principal supported him for the position.
“From the standpoint of where we move forward and how we do things within our state, these are the very reasons our employees across our state have laws,” Justice said. “These are the very, very reasons. There could never be a more shining example.”
Really? It is difficult to imagine Justice winning that argument unless he agrees to go to all the practices as well as the games, which would take him away from his gubernatorial responsibilities nearly every day during the season.
Justice loves kids and coaching, that is clear. But both the school board and one of the players have spoken. Move on, Governor. You have plenty to keep you occupied.
*(Editor’s note: Gabbert’s father was among the applicants for the coaching position. That fact was not included in earlier versions of this commentary.)