Reicher basketball

Former Reicher coach Derrick Harris (left) believes he was let go on an act of retaliation.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file

A Reicher boys basketball coach who was fired last week said he thinks the move was an act of retaliation.

Derrick Harris, a Waco native, said he believed his termination came as a result from reporting inappropriate text messages sent by the athletics director, Mark Sloat. Harris said he told Reicher principal Mindy Taylor about the text messages in January.

Sloat fired Harris on March 29.

“I went in for a postseason evaluation last week, and Mark gave me mostly ones on my evaluation, which was the best score,” Harris said. “There were a few twos and threes, which I didn’t agree with. Then at the end of the meeting, he said, ‘You’re not going to be reinstated for next year.’ I was surprised, I thought he was joking. I asked him the reason, and he didn’t answer.”

Sloat said that Harris had violated TAPPS rules on several occasions this season, and that those violations led to Harris being let go.

“I will say we told him we were not renewing his contract, that his services for next year weren’t going to be needed,” said Sloat, who is in his first year as Reicher’s athletic director. “I have copies of text messages from the principal stating, ‘Don’t tell him why, just tell him his services are no longer needed.’

“We are on probation with TAPPS for two years. Reicher cannot afford any more TAPPS violations. Unfortunately, Derrick Harris had multiple violations this year. We felt that it was not a good idea to put ourselves at further risk because the next violation could be detrimental to the entire athletics department.”

Harris acknowledged that he had twice been suspended during the 2016-17 season, though he disputed the reasoning. He was caught videoing a game involving Vanguard, a district opponent, during Midway’s M.T. Rice Tournament in late January, which Harris said he didn’t realize was against the rules.

Harris said he asked Sloat if he could attend one of the suspended games and sit in the stands as a fan. Sloat told him that would be fine, Harris said.

“One of my players came up to me during the game and said, ‘Coach, what do I do?’ I told him, ‘You know what to do, go get it done,’” Harris said. “A parent was shooting a video of me. … The next day I met with Mindy and Mark and he said, ‘Derrick, did you coach in the game last night?’ I said, ‘No, I did not coach in the game.’ … But I got suspended for three more games.”

On Jan. 10, Sloat sent Harris a text message that read, “Why you letting black people shoot? Lol. How you holding up?” Another message followed, “Only the white kids don’t you know.”

Sloat said he was joking in the text message to Harris.

“You can see where he replied ‘Lol.’ He knew it was a joke,” Sloat said.

Harris, who is black, said he didn’t take the text message as a joke and reported it to Taylor in accordance with Reicher’s mission statement. Taylor did not respond to Tribune-Herald requests for an interview.

“I also didn’t want (the text message) getting back to parents,” Harris said.

According to Sloat, he received a notification from Taylor the morning of Jan. 9 that a parent of a basketball player filed a racism complaint against Harris in regards to black players getting more playing time than white players.

“I told my principal that this complaint is absurd, baseless and ridiculous,” Sloat said.

Harris agreed that the complaint was without merit, though he said he told Sloat he would meet with the parent if needed. That meeting never happened, Harris said, as the parent apparently dropped the issue.

Two days after the text messages were sent, Sloat and Harris met with the principal, superintendent and the diocese.

“Coach Harris did admit to Mrs. Taylor that he understood the context of the text messages and that he did not want to affect me because he knew how those texts would look if you didn’t know the whole story,” Sloat said.

Sloat added that he received a private reprimand regarding the texts in January.

“The reason no one has heard from me is because I am under direct orders from my boss (Taylor) and the diocese to not comment on the matter,” Sloat said. “I was made aware that the diocese does not intend to comment any further on this matter either. I’m having this conversation with you because I want to clear my name because it’s been very upsetting to me and my entire family.”

Reicher went 17-20 and reached the TAPPS playoffs this season, which Harris said was the program’s best record in 12 years. He said that he is upset over the firing, though he doesn’t expect to be reinstated. He said he has tried to meet with Taylor since he was let go, but that she won’t talk to him.

“I know Texas is an at-will state. I just think the ethical thing to do is to explain to me why I was fired,” Harris said. “That goes to the integrity of Reicher’s mission statement.

“At least tell me, ‘Derrick, we have another guy we want in your spot, we’re going to move in another direction.’ That would be tough to sell, but it’s still something. I can go home with that, whether I like it or not. But I’ve been left out in the dry, and I think it’s because Mindy is intimidated by this guy (Sloat).”

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