Detroit — Detroit Renaissance's new principal Verynda Stroughter is on the verge of replacing Vito Jordan as boys basketball head coach.
And Renaissance parents and players are upset.
Renaissance is heading into this season as The News’ No. 1 team in the state with an outstanding nucleus of 6-foot-7 forward Carrington McCaskill, 6-5 guard Chandler Turner and 6-6 forward Kylin Grant.
“It took everyone off guard and he has the support of all the parents as well as around the PSL since the head coaches are all in agreement that he should be able to coach this team that he has assembled over the last four years since he has put in a lot of hard work for the kids, assuring that they get college scholarships, athletic scholarships to go on to school,” said Karen Wilson, McCaskill’s mother. “He does a lot above and beyond just coaching these kids and it’s just unfounded his dismissal or firing, if you will.
“We had a parent meeting. I organized a parent meeting where we could meet with her (Stroughter), her assistant principal and the newly hired athletic director."
Jordan, who has been head coach at Renaissance the last five years, was told by Stroughter she was opening the position to interview other candidates. He could be one.
Renaissance administrators held multiple interviews for the coaching job Monday, and extended an offer to a new coach — he accepted, then withdrew, the school district confirmed.
District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
"Renaissance High School has consistently been one of the highest performing academic high schools in the city of Detroit. This should also be the case athletically.
"As a new principal began her tenure this fall, she thorough (sic) reviewed all programs to ensure that the school was maximizing each and every opportunity for the success of our students. During her review of the boys varsity basketball program, she determined, in her discretion, to make a change in coaching staff to reach the next level of excellence. This also occurred for the girls varsity program. There was nothing improper, illegal, or unusual with this decision. School level principals have the discretion to make coaching changes. Coaches are not under a binding contract.
"After an interview, Principal Stroughter extended an offer to Mr. Mark White, former head boys varsity coach at Renaissance High School, and current head boys varsity coach at River Rouge High School. Mr. White accepted the position; however, after threats of litigation, bullying, and apparently baseless attacks on his character after the acceptance of the position, Mr. White determined not to move forward with this opportunity at this time.
"We will continue to actively seek a new boys varsity basketball coach at Renaissance who is aligned with Principal Stroughter’s, and the District’s, vision of excellence. As Detroit Public Schools Community District continues its rebuilding process, we will be unapologetic in our pursuit of exceptional talent. This includes a strategy to retain and recruit the best talent administratively, in the classroom regarding teachers, and on the field/court regarding coaches. This is what our children deserve."
Drew Paterson, an attorney who he says is representing Jordan, said in an email he plans to file an "emergency action" Wednesday in court to keep the school district from "taking any further action with respect to the boys basketball coaching position and for the Court to further declare that Mr. Jordan has a valid contract to coach this school year and cannot be terminated without just cause."
After a review of the Renaissance girls varsity basketball program, Kiwan Ward remains the coach.
The News attempted to contact Stroughter; she did not reply.
“We have a new principal and she started Sept. 4,” Jordan said. “She called me in her office last Tuesday and said, 'I’m going to be evaluating all my programs, but in my brief evaluation I’ve heard some bad things about the boys basketball program and with that said I’m going to open the job up for interviews.' She said that she had to find the right candidate who could lead these young men on and off the court.
“I had never met her before, never talked to her before last week, and when I asked her, 'What bad news would you hear to make you want to do something like that when I’ve never been in trouble,' she said, 'I can’t tell you that, you’ll have a chance to address that later.' I had to go in for an interview (Monday) and was never told again what the so-called bad news was. I’ve already heard she’s offered the job to someone, just know it’s not going to be me. The parents are upset. They’re all saying if he’s out we’re leaving."
McCaskill and Turner are the top players in the PSL, and McCaskill would more than likely be a Mr. Basketball candidate — if he stays at Renaissance, especially with Rocket Watts of Detroit Old Redford and Harlond Beverly of Southfield Christian transferring to prep schools in Ohio and Florida, respectively.
McCaskill and Turner helped Renaissance to a 15-7 record last season, losing to U-D Jesuit in the district championship game. Kylin Grant, a 6-6 forward, returns to Renaissance this season from Texas and owns a Buffalo offer.
McCaskill is a Florida Atlantic commit, but Turner has a decision to make with nearly 10 offers, including several Mid-American Conference schools, including Buffalo and Kent State. College coaches have been calling Jordan to set up trips to watch Turner.
“I really like Vito,” Turner said. “We have a very close relationship. He’s always been there for me. I like him as a coach, wouldn’t trade him for anything. I thought things were going good. We had a winning record last year. We were coming in confident this year, so it just caught me off guard when I got the news.
"This really came out of nowhere and surprised us all."
Jordan, who works at Randolph Vocational Career Center, worked hard during the summer to get his players exposure and experience while spending some of his own money to make sure they would get their names out to college coaches, parents said.
“It’s to the point where you have five or six DI-caliber players that are willing to sit out a portion of the season rather than stay at Renaissance and play for another coach and my child being one of them," Wilson said. "And he’s probably ranked No. 4 or 5 in the state and we are possibly considering going to a prep school.”
Detroit King coach George Ward was surprised with the Renaissance situation.
“I don’t know why the administration at Renaissance is doing it, there’s no reason for it, but it must be something personal,” Ward said. “Vito’s a good guy, known him for a long time and it just doesn’t make sense. He knows what he’s doing so this can’t be anything to do with basketball and it can’t have anything to do with him getting kids to college. His kids haven’t embarrassed the program and embarrassed the community, so why is this happening almost in October? I have no reason. It's just confusing.”
McCaskill is a Florida Atlantic commit, but Chandler Turner has a decision to make with nearly 10 offers, several of them MAC schools, including Buffalo and Kent State.
“I really like Vito,” Turner said. “We have a very close relationship. He’s always been there for me. I like him as a coach, wouldn’t trade him for anything. I thought things were going good. We had a winning record last year. We were coming in confident this year so it just caught me off guard when I got the news. The parents had a meeting with the principal. I know they are all upset with this stuff. This really came out of nowhere and surprised us all.
“We went to a lot of camps this summer, Ohio State, Michigan State, Cleveland State, Buffalo, … so many places I can’t think of them all. He really went far and beyond what he was supposed to do for us. You can tell he’s all in, wanting to see us be successful. I mean, you can’t ever underestimate how much the coach chemistry has to do with how we react.”
It would be easy to say that Jordan has done an excellent job of developing talent, like in Justin Turner who helped Renaissance make consecutive PSL championship game appearances in 2015 — a one-point loss to eventual state champion Detroit Western - and 2016, and earned a spot on the Mid-American Conference All-Freshman team last season, breaking Bowling Green’s freshman scoring record (492 points, 15.9 average).
And don’t forget helping A.J. Jackson become a multi-sport star, now starting at left tackle for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Jordan stays in weekly contact with Jackson to check his progress on and off the field.
Jackson’s mother said he wouldn’t be playing at Iowa if it wasn’t for Jordan.
“A.J. would not be where he is right now if it wasn’t for the basketball program,” Dionne Jackson said. “Vito has been well past a coach. I owe him everything. A.J. would not be where he is right now on scholarship if it wasn’t for Vito. I’m a single parent. I don’t have support from my family and I have a boy that lives in the city of Detroit and it’s tough. You need a man and A.J.’s a man’s boy and Vito and his father helped him.
“A.J. was headed down the wrong path and there’s only so much I could do with how big he is. Vito’s whole entourage, they gave him tough love. They scolded him in front of his peers and broke him down and if they didn’t do that I’d guarantee he wouldn’t be at Iowa having success. We wouldn’t be where we are now without Vito. Let’s face it, Vito’s program is far, far more than him just coaching those kids.”
U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly knew he had to be on top of his game to get past Renaissance. U-D Jesuit will be the No. 1 team with Jordan no longer at Renaissance, showcasing a lineup that includes 6-10 Jalen Thomas, 6-3 guard/forward Daniel Friday, guard Caleb Hunter, a transfer from Southfield Christian, and point guard Julian Dozier who transferred back from Arizona.
“What’s up with that?” Donnelly said of Jordan’s ouster. “That’s always the game we have to focus on in districts to get through. He’s always been prepared and I’ve never had a run in with him, just a nice guy who has a U-D alum on his bench. I was stunned when I heard of the news. Obviously, I don’t know what her argument is, but all I know is in my experience with Vito he’s a good guy that works hard and has a good relationship with those kids. They are always a contender for us when we get to district play.”
U-D Jesuit was a roadblock to Renaissance for years when it had point guard Cassius Winston, who is now an All-American candidate for Michigan State.