Coach Butch Goncharoff -- leader of the highly successful, well-funded Bellevue High School football program -- is talking publicly for the first time and not mincing words, fiercely defending himself and the program he leads from the conclusions of a highly critical investigative report.
“No, no, (we’re not cheaters), we’ve been doing things right in our eyes for a very long time," Goncharoff said in an exclusive interview with KING 5 News on Monday held in his attorney's downtown Seattle office.
Goncharoff said he’s bewildered by the findings of a 68-page report authored by two attorneys hired by the body that oversees prep athletics in the state -- the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
The Bellevue School District asked the WIAA to conduct the investigation after a series of negative reports about the program were published in The Seattle Times last year. After a nine-month investigation, the attorney's issued a report that vilified the program from all angles, concluding that players, coaches, parents, boosters, school and district administrators alike broke the rules to help Bellevue High School dominate on the football field.
“The investigation established that for a number of years the actions of BHS coaches, the deliberate ignorance of the District and BHS administrators, and the complicity of the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club…and its members, have unfairly tilted the football field in favor of the Bellevue High School football program to the obvious detriment of opponents,” wrote the attorneys.
Goncharoff said he “fully cooperated” with the investigation and hoped for a fair process, which he said didn’t happen.
“I’ve sat back and waited, hoping (for the truth), and when I read it I was bitterly disappointed,” said Goncharoff. “At first I cried, and then second I kind of laughed and third, I just looked at it and said, ‘This doesn’t make sense at all.’”
Attorneys Carl Blackstone and Robert Westinghouse, a former assistant U.S. attorney, issued ten main findings. One of the most explosive is their conclusion that there’s an open door policy at Bellevue High, where the team appears to collect the very best players from around the region.
They found 42 students transferred to Bellevue High and played on the football team between 2008 and 2015. They also found “(examples of) players (using) fake addresses ... thereby circumventing WIAA eligibility rules for sports participation.”
“Given the staggering number of football players who have transferred to BHS over the years, the District should have thoroughly investigated each player’s residency and circumstances surrounding the player’s transfer to BHS,” wrote Westinghouse and Blackstone. They also found “coaches failed to monitor player addresses.”
Goncharoff emphatically denied knowing about or tolerating the use of fake addresses or suspicious moves by students into the district for the explicit purpose of skirting eligibility rules.
“If parents are falsifying addresses of kids, that’s something that needs to be handled at the district level," Goncharoff said, adding: "I’ll tell you exactly what I told them (the investigators). I get a sheet from my athletic director, on the left hand side it says cleared, on the right it says not cleared. If they’re cleared, they’re cleared to practice. If they’re not, they don’t.”
A review of WIAA Rule 18.10.1 shows coaches don’t carry any responsibility to check player addresses. Goncharoff said district and school officials handle that. He also underscored that families have the right to move to different districts and do so for a variety of reasons including jobs, academics, music and sports opportunities.
“I don’t monitor addresses. It is never my job to question any parent to do what’s best for their kid. If parents move in and say it’s my responsibility to do what’s best for my kid. I’m never going to question that," the coach said. "Who am I to question a parent on what they do? So, no, I didn’t do that, and I wouldn’t have a reason to do that.”
The WIAA-hired investigators conceded on page two of their report that they had no proof that coaches were involved in orchestrating moves or the use of false addresses. They wrote: "“Although no evidence was uncovered that directly linked players’ falsification of addresses to any BHS coach or administrator or to any District administrator ... (a) systemic deception suggests a lack of oversight that allowed or tolerated such cheating.”
“I think that’s what makes the report so shoddy in my eyes. There’s just no factual evidence,” said Goncharoff.
The coach also pointed to inconsistencies in the report regarding players the investigators deemed should have been ineligible due to addresses that didn’t appear to match up. Of the five examples of alleged fake addresses, two of the players had been given the green light by the WIAA in 2014 to play at Bellevue after an eligibility hearing. In both cases Sam Jackson, WIAA District 2 Eligibility Chairperson, notified the families that “your appeal for eligibility has been granted.” These details were included in footnotes of the Westinghouse and Blackstone report.
Under Goncharoff the Wolverines have been wildly successful. After taking over as head coach in the year 2000, Bellevue quickly turned into the powerhouse of high school football in Washington state. The school racked up 11 state championships in 15 years. Eastside Catholic finally snapped a Bellevue 67-game winning streak in 2014.
“There’s someone who told me people will forgive you for anything except success. We’ve had success. If you’re around our program, and a lot have, we’re not running around with championship shirts and rings and things like that, it’s more than winning. Don’t discount how hard these kids work,” said Goncharoff.
The head coach is quick to discount the investigative report's critical findings. He said instead of fact, it’s full of innuendo, rumor and anonymous complaints.
“Here’s the problem with the report, there’s stuff like that all over the place. An anonymous source, 'I heard from a guy, who heard from this guy who knew a guy,' but they never ask the person they’re accusing about it," Goncharoff said. "Does that seem fair? If you’re accusing somebody of recruiting somebody, or a coach in this particular (situation), don’t you ask them those questions? It never happened.”
On Wednesday, KING 5 will air more of the Coach Goncharoff interview where he answers questions about allegations of being paid by boosters to coach football.
-- Follow Susannah Frame on Twitter: @SFrameK5.