Supporters make case for Governor Justice as coach, board’s rejection is unchanged, and grievance is filed

A lot of states are watching their governors angle for a next step as senator or president.

West Virginia’s governor continues to aspire to a second high school basketball coaching job.

Jim Justice’s personal attorney, Mike Carey, confirmed this evening that a grievance has been filed after the Greenbrier County school board rejected him for a boys basketball coaching position.

“It was filed,” Carey wrote in an email.

A level one grievance would go to the chief administrator, in this case the superintendent. Superintendent Jeff Bryant has been a supporter of Justice and has a second job as entertainment director at The Greenbrier Resort, owned by Justice’s family. The law says this duty could be delegated to a designee.

An appeal could go to mediator or it could go on to an administrative law judge. The steps after that are to Kanawha Circuit Court, located at the seat of state government,

The behind-the-scenes action came as about a dozen of Justice’s supporters spoke in favor of his candidacy to coach the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball team this evening. All cited his winning record and spoke personally of his support for young athletes on and off the court.

But Justice’s nomination as coach wasn’t among the personnel items listed on tonight’s regular agenda of the Greenbrier County Board of Education, so members took no action after having rejected Justice, 3-2, at a meeting last month. The board members did go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, but it wasn’t clear whether that was about the basketball coaching position.

“I truly hope board members are not only hearing what people are saying but also listening,” said the last speaker, Jason Brown, the father of two former players under Justice.

He concluded, “You cannot give Coach Justice an advantage for being the governor, but conversely that can’t be a detractor either.”

No one spoke against Justice this afternoon, but some have during past meetings.

Gov. Jim Justice

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

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 before voting against it later in the month.

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.

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.”

His supporters who spoke this afternoon agreed that he has a bond with the players, with several describing regular “Story Time” set aside during practice.

“Let his record speak for itself,” said Marion Gordon, a longtime teacher at Greenbrier East and an assistant coach for Justice’s girls basketball teams. “He very seldom missed practice. Coach’s record pretty much speaks for itself.”

Another speaker, John Sams, asked aloud whether board members doubt the high school athletic director and principal who recommended Justice.

“I don’t get it,” Sams said. “I know he’s a winner on the court.”

Supporter Doug Canterbury, whose son played at Greenbrier East, said what happens at practice matters but so does the ability to make adjustments on the sideline.

“I was amazed how he made offensive changes, defensive changes during the game,” Canterbury said.

Justice reacted last month to the board’s rejection during a statewide, livestreamed briefing about West Virginia’s pandemic response. The state has more than 27,000 active cases of covid-19 right now and a record number of covid patients in the hospital.

That day, Justice concluded his briefing by 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 then, 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.”

In those remarks, Justice twice generally described how state law might apply to the situation.

“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.

A letter from Justice’s attorney was sent to the Greenbrier school board office before last month’s meeting. MetroNews obtained it through a Freedom of Information request to the county board.

That letter, like the supporters tonight, outlined Justice’s many coaching accomplishments over the years. But then, unlike the supporters, it made reference to a possible collision in a court of law.

“Rejecting the school’s unanimous head coaching selection in the face of such overwhelming credentials would be manifestly arbitrary and capricious, and it would produce nothing but swift and public embarrassment in the courts — an outcome no one desires,” Carey wrote for Justice.

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