Former longtime Detroit Renaissance Principal Anita Williams had high praise for boys basketball head coach Venias “Vito” Jordan Jr. and said he was under contract for the 2018-19 season when she left to take a similar position in Birmingham, Alabama, this summer.
Williams, who had been principal of Renaissance since 2011, hired Jordan in 2013 and this past June asked Jordan to submit his summer conditioning and travel schedules to the athletic director and assistant principal.
Jordan guided Renaissance to consecutive PSL championship game appearances in 2015 and 2016, then to a 15-7 record last season.
With the PSL’s top players returning in 6-foot-7 forward Carrington McCaskill and 6-5 guard/forward Chandler Turner, Renaissance was tabbed as The Detroit News preseason No. 1 team in the state.
“It was my understanding that the yearly oral contracts that principals were authorized to enter into with athletic coaches could not be terminated without just cause,” Williams said in a signed affidavit for Jordan’s federal lawsuit.
The News received a copy of the affidavit Tuesday.
Williams was replaced by Verynda Stroughter, who took over as principal at Renaissance, and then reopened the boys basketball coaching position in her first month on the job.
Detroit Public Schools Community District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson released a statement last week that said, “During her (Stroughter's) review of the boys varsity basketball program, she determined in her discretion, to make a change in the coaching staff to reach the next level of excellence.”
Wilson declined further comment Tuesday.
Jordan filed a lawsuit last week through his attorney, Andrew A. Paterson, seeking $500,000 in damages. The lawsuit claims Jordan has an oral agreement from Williams, and Stroughter doesn’t have the authority to terminate without just cause.
Jordan told The Detroit News of a meeting last month with Stroughter: “She called me in her office 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.”
Jordan said she never elaborated on what the “bad news” was.
In the affidavit acquired by The News, Williams stated, “In my opinion, Plaintiff Venias Jordan deserves the opportunity to continue in the capacity of head boys basketball coach for the 2018-19 school year because prior to my resignation, I had every intention on retaining Plaintiff Venias Jordan as the head boys basketball coach and I verbally authorized Plaintiff Venias Jordan to continue to act in the official capacity as the head boys basketball coach during the summer months of June and July 2018.
“Based upon my instructions and directives to Plaintiff Venias Jordan in June 2018 to submit his summer conditioning and travel schedules to both the Athletic Coordinator, Eric Smith, and Assistant Principal Lewis Grady. Athletic coaches who are not going to be retained are not allowed to interact with the team and the players during the offseason. Plaintiff Jordan was permitted to take the boys basketball team on out-of-town trips to team camps in June and July 2018 at various colleges and universities. During these out-of-town trips to various camps, Plaintiff Venias Jordan acted in the official capacity as head boys basketball coach of Renaissance High School.
“To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, I never personally suspended and/or terminated Plaintiff Venias Jordan during my tenure as Principal of Renaissance High School. ..."
“First, during my tenure as Principal of Renaissance High School, all coaching decisions were always made in conjunction and cooperation with parents, students and community members. Second, I am not aware of any actions, both on and off the court that would warrant termination of Plaintiff Venias Jordan. Third, I had every intention on retaining Plaintiff Venias Jordan for 2018-19 school year.”
Parents of Renaissance players had a meeting with Stroughter last month, hoping she would keep Jordan as head coach for the 2018-19 school year and evaluate the program throughout the season before making a decision.
The parents had hoped to have a second meeting with Stroughter last Thursday with a dozen of them making the trip to Renaissance, but were told to leave the school by an assistant principal.
Stroughter had offered the Renaissance job to River Rouge head coach Mark White, who first accepted the job, then turned it down.
White is no longer head coach at River Rouge, according to school officials and players.
There will be a hearing Oct. 19 at 9:30 a.m. at the U.S. District Court in Detroit to rule on whether or not Jordan’s firing was unlawful.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District released the following statement on the matter late Tuesday:
"The district will defend its legally justified decisions in court proceedings including depositions where we will have the opportunity to examine or cross examine all witnesses."