LaMonta Stone fired as River Rouge coach with state tournament approaching

David Goricki
The Detroit News

LaMonta Stone was fired as River Rouge's boys basketball coach late Tuesday, saying he was told by superintendent Derrick Coleman that the program's performance did not "meet his expectations."

River Rouge entered the season ranked No. 1 by The News, led by 6-foot-8 Legend Geeter, who will play next season at Providence.

River Rouge will be competing in the state tournament. Districts open next Tuesday, but Stone will not be guiding the team.

River Rouge was 20-1 and ranked No. 1 in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season as it reached the district title games. The school was 23-2 in 2019 and lost to Hudsonville Unity Christian in the Division 2 state championship game.

Lamonta Stone

River Rouge — 8-3 and No. 20 in The News Super 20 — stumbled at times this season, getting swept by No. 6 Hamtramck, which won the Metro Conference title, and losing to No. 10 Grand Blanc.

“I was fired, called him (Coleman) again a few hours ago (Tuesday evening) and he said nothing has changed, so I told him let me call the players and parents to tell them I’m no longer their coach," Stone said.

"I’m a graduate of River Rouge, a member of the program, not only as a coach, but as a player and I love this place so I’m going to be professional about it.

“I feel we still needed to work on things because right now we’re not good enough to win a state championship, but we have three weeks left and we don’t need to win a state championship right now."

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River Rouge’s program was so respected that Stone was told to bring Geeter and another player to Lansing to meet last month with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as she allowed the return of high-school contact sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

River Rouge has won 14 state championships, the last one in 1999 with Stone guiding the team to a Class B title.

Stone then took his talent to the college game, accepting assistant coaching jobs at Eastern Michigan, Ohio State and Bowling Green before returning to River Rouge..

"I love Coach Stone and have looked up to him as a coach," said River Rouge athletic director Corey Parker, also the school's head football coach. "He was still in talks with Dr. Coleman from 4-to-7 yesterday so I didn't want to comment at the time. It was all about expectations. We had very high expectations for the basketball program.

"It's not like there was anything illegal going on. He still works in the school district. It all comes down to basketball and we're going with Todd Burgan (for rest of the season) who played at Syracuse and had a great career at Pershing.

"We know it's a very tough scenario with the timing, especially with districts coming up. Coach Stone knows a lot of college coaches and he's getting attention. His family knows the college lifestyle."

Expectations must be high at River Rouge since Mark White had consecutive Class B state semifinal runs in 2017 and 2018 before being replaced by Stone.

Stone had a great game plan against Emoni Bates and Ypsilanti Lincoln, limiting Bates to eight points in a 31-point win in December, 2018 with Lincoln going on to win the Division 1 state championship that March.

River Rouge again defeated Lincoln last season, 63-53 with Bates scoring 24.

Parker has made sure River Rouge's football program has reached expectations, guiding the team to the Division 3 state championship in 2019, then losing to DeWitt in the Division 3 title game at Ford Field in January.

Geeter, meanwhile, told The News: “It’s kind of heartbreaking. I found out yesterday, heard things on social media. I talked to him and he told me he was no longer our coach. He’s meant a lot to me, so finding it out was kind of hard, but it’s part of life and I have to deal with it. He basically told me to take what he taught me and go with it.”

Stone sent out a release late Tuesday night, saying: “This evening I received notice from River Rouge School District Superintendent Dr. Derrick Coleman that I was terminated from my position as head men’s basketball coach at River Rouge High School. Dr. Coleman stated that the performance of the men’s basketball program during my tenure as coach did not meet his expectations.

“His decision and statement is in spite of a current Top 20 ranking in The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press; a No. 1 overall ranking by both The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press in 2020; a Division 2 state runner-up in 2019; 9 college basketball scholarships; 17 graduates (including this year) and a 3-year overall record of 51 wins and 6 losses.

“I would like to thank all the student athletes who allowed me to coach and mentor them. Thank you for all your efforts in assuring that we represented both the school district and city in the appropriate way. I would also like to thank all the parents for entrusting me with your children and support of the program. Thank you for the River Rouge community for your valuable support to our student athletes, the program and the school district. I ask that you continue to support the program and the school district as I will. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Tomica and our kids for sharing me with the team.”

River Rouge is in quarantine after having a player test positive a day after Friday’s 48-38 loss at Hamtramck