The head coach of Bellevue High School's football team is vigorously denying the findings of an investigation commissioned by the state high school athletic authority, blasting the investigation for dealing in innuendo and cherry picking evidence.
“(People associated with the team) are good people. It’s not a fanatical (program). It’s not crazy. No one’s running around saying ‘win at all cost.’ I mean success is a product of doing things right, and I think we do things right,” said Coach Butch Goncharoff in an exclusive interview with KING 5 on Monday.
Several pages of the report by attorneys Bob Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone highlight what they consider violations related to money. They concluded team boosters made “excessive payments” to Goncharoff as he lead the team to 11 state championships over the past 15 years.
“The Bellevue High School football program has been governed by money, by the boosters club, by too much focus on winning and not on playing fairly,” said Westinghouse in an interview with KING 5.
“The Booster Club’s tax returns for the years 2002 to 2012 reflect payments to coaches totaling $588,568. We believe that the bulk of these payments went to Coach Goncharoff,” wrote the attorneys in the investigative report.
They added: “In August 2007, (the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) implemented a rule requiring that all payments to coaches exceeding $500 be approved by the school board. None of the payments made by the Booster Club to BHS coaches between 2008 and 2012, totaling $312,059, were approved by the Bellevue School Board.”
High school coaches, by design, aren’t supposed to make a lot of money for coaching. The Bellevue School District pays Goncharoff a stipend of $7,000 a season to lead the team. But the boosters told KING 5 they pay Goncharoff, on average, an additional $60,000 per year for activities in the off-season -- activities designed to better the community, such as heading up Greater Eastside Junior Football programs, Wolverine Junior Football Camp, Seattle Jubilee Reach Football Camp, community outreach efforts and speaking engagements.
“Am I supposed to survive on $7,000 a year? Can anybody live on $7,000 a year? Do I have a right to make a living? Am I doing it within 100% guidelines of the rules? Yes. Am I cheating anybody? Absolutely not,” said Goncharoff.
Westinghouse and Blackstone didn’t buy the explanation. They wrote, "the Booster Club and Coach Goncharoff have been able to perpetuate the sham that he only receives his BHS stipend for coaching high school football. This game of semantics suggests the obvious – all knew what was going on, but did not want to expose the full story.”
The investigators point to their interpretation of a WIAA rule that states, in their words, that coaches can’t be paid “in excess of $500 per year” without first getting approval from the school board. They wrote since none of the additional money was first authorized by the board that the district should have “(reported) the alleged violation to the KingCo (Sports) Conference.”
But the rule is not as clear cut as the investigators declare. On page 41 of the official WIAA rule handbook, Rule 23.1.1 is written this way: “Coaching stipends and all gifts to a coach exceeding a total of $500 in a season must be approved by the school’s board of directors.”
The key difference is that the WIAA official rule states additional money cannot be made in a season, defined as a specific four-month period. It does not state “in a year,” as the two attorneys referenced over and over in their report.
“What’s distressful about this is these are lawyers, they look at rules for a living,” said Goncharoff. “Everything I do is 100 percent (within) the guidelines of the rules. These guys knew that. They knew it. Or they should have known it. But they threw (the misinformation) in (the report) to make it look sinister or I’m trying to pull something over on everybody, and I’m not.”
Goncharoff and the boosters said payments for community activities and clinics happened outside of the four-month coaching season.
“Outside the season I do camps, I do clinics, I do speaking engagements, I do community outreach, I do Boys and Girls Clubs, inner city Seattle Jubilee Reach (programs). All are within 100% of the WIAA (rule),” said Goncharoff.
The 68-page report ends with a parting criticism of Goncharoff and his potentially lucrative coaching career.
“Finally, we have also heard that the Booster Club and others have provided Coach Goncharoff with cars, assisted him in purchasing his home in Medina and has funded his business. None of this has been confirmed,” wrote Westinghouse and Blackstone.
“I bought my own car. It’s a 2004 Lexus with 127,000 miles on it,” said the coach. “Why would you throw that in (the report) without any proof? Do you have any proof? Do you have anything at all? No, but let’s put it in the report,” said Goncharoff. “It’s not true. It’s ridiculous.”
-- Follow Susannah Frame on Twitter: @SFrameK5.