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Canton McKinley football coach Marcus Wattley, 6 assistants fired following misconduct investigation

An investigation found the seven staff members made a player eat pork in violation of his religious beliefs.

CANTON, Ohio — The Canton City School District has fired head high school football coach Marcus Wattley and six of his assistants following an investigation into misconduct against a player.

After meeting for more than an hour in executive session, the board of education unanimously voted to terminate Wattley's contract, along with the following other coaches:

  • Josh Grimsley - Defensive coordinator
  • Cade Brodie - Defensive ends coach
  • Zach Sweat - Defensive backs coach
  • Frank McLeod - Linebackers coach
  • Tyler Thatcher - Freshman head coach
  • Romero Harris - Weight room coach and baseball assistant

Wattley and the remaining six coaches were originally on administrative leave following an accusation that they forced a student to eat pepperoni pizza after he showed up late to a non-mandatory practice on May 24. According to the district, the coaches knew the teen was a member of the Hebrew Israelite faith, and that consuming pork was in violation of his religion's practices.

A district investigation found the charges against the coaches to be true, and Superintendent Jeff Talbert called their actions "inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive." He later called the special board meeting that resulted in the] group of coaches losing their jobs.

"The football program, which has a long and proud history, is an important part of our school culture and our community," Talbert added in a statement that was read by Board President John M. Rinaldi Thursday. "This incident does not reflect the Canton City School District's culture of protecting the physical and emotional wellbeing of our students."

An attorney representing Marcus Wattley told 3News Investigates that there's more to this story that hasn't been told.

"This young man is one of the most talented members of the team and he's let the team down, not showing up to practices, not communicating with his team, not fulfilling the role of a team leader," attorney Peter Pattakos told 3News. "The idea was, 'Okay young man, you're so special? You want special treatment? Are you hungry? I'll buy you a pizza and we can all watch you eat. You're the king, you're the prince.' It was along those lines, and the kid knew he was being disciplined. The coach was trying to teach a lesson."

Superintendent Jeff Talbert said it was surveillance video that gave him the information he needed to make his recommendation.

"What is on that video shows that what happened on May 24 is an ill-mannered attempt to instill accountability and discipline in our students," Talbert said. "The type of behavior was inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive."

Talbert went on to say that video would not be publicly released due to federal student privacy regulations.

Following the vote to relieve Wattley of his duties, the board confirmed athletic director Antonio Hall will serve as interim head football coach for the 2021 season. Hall was a star offensive tackle on the Bulldogs' 1997 national championship team and later earned All-SEC honors at Kentucky before stints as an assistant coach at GlenOak, McKinley, and St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been Canton's AD for less than a year.

As for the coaches who had other jobs within the district, there will be upcoming meetings to determine their futures in that capacity.