Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been sacked as coach of the Don Bosco Eagles and told he can forget about a football post at any school in the Toronto Catholic school board, putting an end to a volunteer effort that brought trouble and triumph to the city's beleaguered leader.
The decision is a body blow to Mr. Ford, whose passion for football is unquestioned. Images of him on the sidelines in his green and gold Eagles jacket, a clipboard in hand, show a side of the mayor seldom seen in the council chamber or committee room. He led the Eagles to the Metro Bowl championship game last year, splitting his time between city hall and the football field – and clearly preferring the latter.
A verdict on the mayor's coaching future had been expected for weeks, but his supporters questioned the timing of barring him from a job he loves when he is battling controversy on other fronts. For all the troubles that have beset Mr. Ford's mayoral career, it is first time he has been definitively ousted from a position over his conduct.
Mr. Ford is facing allegations that he was caught on a video smoking crack cocaine, but school officials insisted Wednesday their decision was not linked to those claims.
Others involved with the school, including some parents and students, welcomed the action by the board's director of education, expressing relief at the removal of a coach who made the Eagles perhaps the most-watched school team in city history.
"He was great as a coach, the kids loved him, they performed for him, but he should focus on city business," said Judy Collins, treasurer of the school's parent council and one of the people who raised alarm bells over Mr. Ford's negative descriptions of the North Etobicoke high school. In a television interview in March, the mayor characterized Don Bosco students as coming from gangs and broken homes.
"He said if it weren't for him his players would be dead or on drugs and we thought that was over the top," Ms. Collins said Wednesday outside the school. "It was as if he believed the parents had no control or responsibility over their kids at all, that their fates were in the hands of Rob Ford alone."
A Grade 10 student, who declined to give her name, said Don Bosco's reputation has been shaped by the mayor. "I go to tournaments with my basketball team, and other teams know us as that rough school where the mayor coaches," she said. "I won't miss that."
There is no question Mr. Ford has a passion for the team he has coached for the past decade. But the volunteer effort has landed him in hot water – at the school board and city hall. The mayor caught flak for cutting meetings for games and using city phones, cars and staff for his coaching efforts. Last fall, a TTC bus was pulled out of service to ferry Don Bosco players from a game, and Mr. Ford's attempts to get money from lobbyists for his football foundation nearly got him kicked out of office on conflict of interest charges.
The school board launched its review after Mr. Ford's controversial TV interview. After several discussions with teachers, parents, and trustees and at least one meeting with the mayor, TCDSB director of education Bruce Rodrigues made the call. Mr. Ford was informed in a letter hand-delivered to his office at lunchtime Wednesday, a board spokesman said. Don Bosco players were gathered and told in a meeting that included Mr. Rodrigues, the school's principal and former pro linebacker Gene Mack.
The former Toronto Argonaut and Minnesota Vikings player was there to offer encouragement, said TCDSB spokesman John Yan. "He talked to the boys and reassured them that the program would continue," he said.
"This decision was based on what is best for our students, our school and the Don Bosco community," Mr. Rodrigues said in a statement.
Sal Piccininni, vice-chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, who describes himself as a friend of the mayor, said there was no need for the board to "feed into the storm cloud" already surrounding Mr. Ford. "I think there are some parents at that school that are oversensitive," he said. "Rob Ford is a volunteer coach at the school. His heart is in the right place."
Mr. Piccininni said he disagrees with the board of director's decision and the timing. "I don't throw anyone under the bus and I don't like what we did."
Trustee Maria Rizzo said the decision was a long time coming. "Everyone needs to move on and Mr. Ford is no exception," she said. Ms. Rizzo said students need "really good role models," and Mr. Ford was "not the best."