Pirates coach loses job to full-time teacher

Crystal River's principal replaced Steve Ekeli with teacher Michael Callaway as the soccer coach.

Published June 20, 2006

CRYSTAL RIVER - Perhaps it's all an issue of semantics.

When he interviewed in the fall to coach the Pirates soccer team, Steve Ekeli, who does not teach at Crystal River High, said no one told him the job could be short term.

But principal Patrick Simon said he told Ekeli he prefers to hire full-time teachers as coaches.

"He may not remember," Simon said.

Either way, Ekeli is out after one season, replaced by teacher Michael Callaway, who also interviewed in the fall.

And though he said he still respects Simon, Ekeli is not happy.

"Never did anyone at the school say, 'Steve, this is going to be a one-year deal,' " he said. "If they had, I would have said, 'I'm not your guy.' "

At his interview, Ekeli presented administrators with a three-year plan. And things started well, with the Pirates finishing 10-6-4 and qualifying for the region quarterfinals.

Ekeli, who took over a team that went 8-13 in 2004-05, was the Times' Citrus and Hernando soccer Coach of the Year.

"When I say it caught me by surprise, it was like a swift kick in the pants," he said. "When I came out of that room, I couldn't physically drive the car. I was like, 'What in the world just happened here?' "

What happened was Simon's desire to keep as many coaches on campus as possible. He already had dismissed volunteer baseball coach Rob Cummins to hire English teacher Tim Harradine to the position.

"I applaud them for wanting all their head coaches on staff," Ekeli said. "If that's going to be their policy, great. But you don't hire an outside guy, and then turn around and not renew him

Simon said he had not fielded any phone calls from parents upset with the decision.

He also said he decided not to offer Callaway the job in the fall because it was his first year as a teacher.

This time, Callaway was the only internal candidate for the job, which was posted June 15 - the same say he accepted it.

Callaway will inherit a team Ekeli called the favorite to win its district next season.

"I feel a little bit used," he said. "I feel like, 'Okay, I got the program back on its feet, and now I can't keep it going.' "

Simon said he appreciates Ekeli's contribution.

"I'm sure it's painful for the kids because builds relationships with them," Simon said.

Ekeli said he will continue to coach soccer and baseball at Seven Rivers Christian.

Brian Sumers can be reached at 352-564-3628 or bsumers@sptimes.com.