Ontario cites ‘bullying’ behavior to dismiss former football coach

Former Ontario High School football coach Tony Cade was forced to resign by school officials late last month but remains with the school district as a social studies teacher. (The Enterprise/File).

ONTARIO – The coach of the Ontario High School football team was forced to resign part way through the season because of what district officials said was intimidating and retaliatory behavior towards some athletes, according to a document obtained by the Malheur Enterprise.

Tony Cade, hired last June to take over the Ontario program, turned in his resignation on Sept. 25 but retained his job as a social studies teacher at the high school.

Ontario School District officials had announced his resignation but declined to provide any explanation. Last week, they released a five-page letter dated Oct. 2 that recounted an investigation into Cade’s conduct that resulted in his departure. The document was signed by Jodi Elizondo, the high school principal, and Josh Mink, athletic director, and was released after a public records request from the Enterprise.

DOCUMENT: Ontario School District report

Elizondo wouldn’t elaborate on the letter or respond directly to written questions about why Cade remained in his teaching role.

“The district feels it took appropriate measures in resolving these issues,” according to Eric Norton, school district personnel director.

In an interview Monday, Cade said the investigation rested on disgruntled players and didn’t fairly capture his coaching methods.

But the five-page letter was harsh, telling Cade that “you do not possess the professional lens required to protect our students from your behavior.” The officials said they found “a pattern of intimidation and bullying” while investigating Cade.

Cade said that none of his players brought concerns about bullying to his attention.

DOCUMENT: Tony Cade letter

“This is the first time anyone has made me out to be a bully,” said Cade, who previously coached in Idaho.

According to the document, the investigation was triggered by a complaint made by a parent who alleged that Cade publicly embarrassed their student athlete at a football game in La Grande. 

Cade said that at that game, a player made a derogatory comment to him.

“I called a timeout and the kid said something to me and I let it go once. He did it again and I said give me another tight end. Mom took offense. They started to interview kids and I came to find out my coaching philosophy is a lot different than what they perceive a coaching philosophy to be,” said Cade.

The complaint triggered a district investigation that included questioning players. Cade was criticized for his treatment of football players after he learned he was under investigation.

According to the document, Cade confirmed that at least three times at a practice the evening prior to his meeting with Elizondo he told players they could “go ahead and turn me into administration again.”

The document said Cade admitted he did this out of frustration that the players played a part in getting him “in trouble” with administrators.

“The final determining factor for your dismissal actually rested on your inability to control your emotions with our players when you retaliated against them with your comments about speaking with administration,” the letter said.

Cade said Monday he never retaliated against anyone.

The document said that Cade confirmed a practice of calling players “numnuts,” “jackwagons” and “clowns” without understanding that players felt this was “demeaning or embarrassing.”

Cade defended his actions by saying “it’s just football” and that he had never been told in the course of his career not to call players by those names, according to the letter. 

 The document characterizes Cade as lacking “in approachability, resisting teamwork and disrespecting the hierarchy of job supervision” at the high school, pointing to an incident on a football trip to Mazama High School.

According to the document, Mink texted Cade to ask which other coaches were with him on the trip. 

Cade responded with the names, but bristled at the question, according to the letter.

“I don’t get how I’m questioned everything I do … I got 50 kids on an 8 hr trip. Nothing but compliments in all we do here. But seems my own school wants to find something I do wrong,” Cade wrote back, according to the letter.

Cade said Monday the exchange was mischaracterized.

The document alleges that during the meeting with Elizondo and Mink, Cade stared down Elizondo in an attempt to be intimidating so that she felt compelled to say, “Don’t stare me down.” 

Cade, according to the document, responded to Elizondo’s request saying, “I’m not staring you down,” and that despite this, he continued to stare her down “all the way out the door.”

Cade said he did not “stare down” Elizondo.

“I don’t understand that at all,” Cade said. “It is kind of dumbfounding to me that someone would make that kind of comment. It was nothing like that.”

He resigned by email hours later.

“After extensive investigation and hearing your responses to these concerns,” the document says, “it was determined we could not be confident that this behavior would not continue and relieved you of your duties effective immediately.” 

The document further stated that had Cade “followed the advice of your supervisor, allowed the investigation to take its regular course over the two short days prior to meeting with you, not retaliated against players and been reflective rather than defensive and argumentative in our meeting, we might not be where we are today.”

Cade said the investigation consisted of calling football players into Elizondo’s office.

“They say extensive investigation. Well the extensive investigation was to bring kids in I had disciplined that week,” said Cade.

Cade said he resigned over philosophical differences.

“My resignation wasn’t the fact I wanted to leave these kids high and dry. I was 1,000 percent into this. I brought in change. I think the culture needed to be changed because it was a culture of disrespect and laziness. For some that worked, for others it didn’t,” said Cade.

Cade admitted he can be “loud and wears his emotions on his sleeve” but never condoned intimidating players.

“I am always professional. I am honest with kids. It is corrective feedback. Some coaches put their arms around your shoulders and I probably scream and yell but at the end of practice I will put my arm around their shoulders. We leave it between the lines,” said Cade.

Cade said he was surprised by the accusations because no one mentioned his behavior before.

“I had my athletic director out to two of my practices. He saw me coach two games,” said Cade.

Cade said Elizondo never attended practices or games he coached.

“I am a loud guy. I talk loud. I don’t go quiet. I am an intense guy. If a kid ever felt demeaned, I have an open door policy,” said Cade.


Reporter Pat Caldwell also contributed to this report.

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