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McCourt no longer football coach at Roman

Joe McCourt is at odds with administration about reason he was let go after seven seasons.

IN A TANGLED, bizarre ordeal that began Wednesday night, the Daily News has learned that Joe McCourt will no longer be the head football coach at Roman Catholic High.

However, the explanation as to why requires some unraveling.

What started as a story about how a volunteer assistant coach's arrest may have cost McCourt his job, morphed into a school official saying the former Roman star running back and linebacker stepped down of his own volition to "spend more time with his family."

It began Wednesday night when the Daily News received a tip that McCourt's seventh season at his alma mater would be his last.

When reached that night, McCourt, a 2000 Roman grad, confirmed that his coaching tenure was at an end, but he also expressed frustration over how it transpired.

McCourt said an end-of-the-season meeting was scheduled earlier that day but was cancelled about an hour before it was to take place.

McCourt, who said he cares for his two children during the day and works at night, said he had already arrived at the school before being asked to reschedule for Friday.

Later that same day, McCourt said he was warned by two people at the school that his contract would not be renewed.

"Nobody's even contacted me yet," McCourt said Wednesday.

"I've heard from multiple people down there that I'm being let go. You hate to see something end like this because I've given a lot to that school, Roman's given a lot to me, and for it to kind of end this way and be kind of unprofessional as it is, that's kind of what makes it a little disappointing."

Yesterday morning, McCourt said in a text that he had been contacted by Roman athletic director Daniel DiBerardinis.

In a followup phone interview McCourt said DiBerardinis told him yesterday morning that the November arrest of a volunteer assistant coach, who didn't have the proper clearances to work with young people, was the reason McCourt would not continue as coach.

The assistant, who McCourt refused to name, was arrested, charged and subsequently allowed to enter an accelerated misdemeanor program after allegedly trying to illegally purchase prescription drugs on Nov. 5, according to a criminal docket from the Municipal Court of Philadelphia County.

McCourt said that after learning of the arrest that same week he dismissed the coach and ordered him to have no further contact with the team. However, McCourt said he did not immediately inform school officials.

According to Archdiocese of Philadelphia policy on the protection of children and young people, all coaches who have regular contact with players must undergo the appropriate background checks.

"We had Marvin Harrison [former NFL star, Roman product] around coaching our freshman," McCourt said yesterday morning. "He was a volunteer. He didn't have any clearances. Scott Paxson was a former NFL player and plays in the CFL. He came to almost all of our offseason practices. He didn't have clearances. All of a sudden, one of our volunteer, unpaid assistants gets in trouble and it's a big deal . . . That's what's disappointing to me. It is what it is and I have to accept it, but I don't think it's right that it's costing me my job."

A message left for Roman principal Robert O'Neill was not returned yesterday. A message left for Jason Budd, the Deputy Secretary for Catholic Education, was also not returned.

But DiBerardinis, a 2005 Roman grad, did return a call and discussed the situation.

The first-year athletic director replaced former AD Sean Fitzherbert, who was dismissed last year and, according to court records, awaits trial after he allegedly "engaged in inappropriate conduct via computer technology with a minor attending Father Judge High School," the Archdiocese said in a statement last year. Fitzherbert, according to the Archdiocese had received all necessary clearances and background checks.

"So there was kind of a miscommunication with Joe, but I spoke with him a little bit ago, he's actually stepping down this year," Di Berardinis said yesterday. "He's going to take some time off and hopefully in the future we can bring him back. He's been a great asset to the school, a great alumni [sic] and he's done a ton of work for us and we're really appreciative for that. But, we're going to be opening up the job, he's stepped down and hopefully we can start the process of looking for a new coach."

When asked about McCourt's claims, DiBerardinis said: "There was a lack of communication between the principal and Joe. They were supposed to meet, rumors got started swirling and it kind of got out of hand, and I understand your concern but at the end of it all we had a nice conversation and he just said it's a lot. He's got two young kids at home and he just doesn't have the time for it right now, so that's how we're leaving it and you can follow up with him . . . "

When asked if the arrest of the volunteer assistant played a role in McCourt's departure, DiBerardinis said: "No, that has no factor in it. He's just stepping away for his family, to spend more time, and I'm hoping we can bring him back. I'm a young athletic director, it's my first year and I'm hoping he comes back . . . I looked up to him [when he was] a player. As a kid I watched him play. We're hoping he comes back and helps out the program even more."

When reached for response, McCourt said his initial account was truthful and that he had told school officials to tell whatever story they desired.

McCourt was a star running back and linebacker at Roman, who played at Lafayette College where he finished his career as the school's second all-time leading rusher with 4,474 yards and a record 50 touchdowns.

Since taking over in 2008, McCourt has led Roman to a 42-37 overall record (13-18 in Catholic League play). Last season, the Cahillites finished 5-6 and 1-2 in PCL play.

The Cahillites' final three losses this season were by a combined 130-3 against La Salle (twice) and eventual AAAA state champion St. Joseph's Prep. They finished the year with a 45-6 Thanksgiving Day win over Roxborough.

Long before the school said he was stepping down, McCourt said friction existed between himself and the administration over what he perceived to be a lack of commitment to building a winning program.

Roman practices on a grass field on 24th Street and the Parkway, but when it rains, McCourt said, practice is held indoors in the school's gymnasium.

"This was probably just the icing on the cake over our battles the last 2 or 3 years about trying to improve our facilities to get the program where it needs to be," McCourt said. "We just have a difference of opinion and, to me this is a total cop out, getting rid of me and using this as the main excuse, which in my opinion is total bullcrap, to be honest with you."