Loyal: 'Wouldn't change a thing'

Barry Loyal's improvement over his three seasons with the Wildcats didn't satisfy his school administrators.

Barry Loyal met with his Trinity football team on Monday afternoon and informed them he would no longer be the Wildcats’ football coach.

Obviously, it was an emotional moment. But Loyal kept reminding himself of the reason he had been hired for the position in April, 2017.

“You lead young men, week in and week out, and you tell them how hard it is to overcome adversities in their lives,” Loyal said. “You tell them how hard it is to rely on your faith in certain instances, you tell them how hard it is to rely on the process God has put you through to get through things – whether it’s winning, losing, responding to a teammate, responding to not playing enough – and you preach that day in, day out, because your whole priority is to develop young men. That’s the sole purpose for me being here is to develop Godly young men. You say that week in, week out, and now all of a sudden, you’ve got to go live it.”

Loyal had made progress in his third year as head coach of the Wildcats, losing to perennial powers American Christian and Andalusia before winning six of the final eight regular season games, including wins over Capital City Conference rivals Alabama Christian and Montgomery Academy. His four losses were to teams that compiled a collective 43-9 record, with two of the teams advancing to the quarterfinals and another to the semifinals.

He finished as runner-up in the balloting for the Capital City Conference coach of the year, a testament to the respect his efforts earned him from his CCC peers. His firing on Monday left them shocked and surprised.

Catholic coach Aubrey Blackwell, contacted for a story about next year’s football schedule, gave an unsolicited vote of approval for Loyal, whose record improved in each of his three seasons at Trinity.

“I thought Barry Loyal did a great job last year,” Blackwell said. “I thought that he overachieved, considering the schedule he played. He lost five games last year – he lost to American Christian, who finished in the top five; Andalusia twice, who finished in the top five; lost to us, who finished in the top five; and lost at St. James 14-7 and had a chance to win it twice.

“It’s hard not to be nervous when guys like that are getting let go.”

Trinity officials released a statement on Monday announcing the decision but offered no insight behind the reasons for his dismissal. Athletic director Jessica Lassiter referred to a prepared statement from the school that praised Loyal for his three years of service and noted that she was “grateful for his leadership and commitment to the Trinity football program.”

Loyal elected to remain silent on Monday but did offer a few thoughts on Tuesday.

“There were some criteria that I just didn’t meet,” Loyal said. “If you want more clarity on that, you’re going to have to ask Coach Lassiter.”

The criteria are likely broad-based ideals written into any standard contract, which includes a set of criteria for termination for cause (such as criminal acts, rules violations and acts of moral turpitude) or termination without cause, which involves a failure by the coach to win, inability to compete in a conference or region, unhappiness among big money donors or changes in administration.

At a private school, the latter two reasons typically are at the top of any termination, but Loyal’s firing is especially surprising given that it comes in the middle of a school year – which could affect the hiring of his successor – and the fact the firing was apparently approved by interim head of school Merle Henkel with the school’s new chief administrator, Bill Shelnutt, just five months away from replacing Henkel.

Shelnutt had no comment on his level of involvement in the firing or projected hiring process and referred all questions to Henkel.

Henkel did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Loyal offered no insight on the reasons he received or if he was even offered any concrete reasons for his termination.

“It didn’t have anything to do with my teaching,” Loyal said. “From a football realm, that’s an all-encompassing (situation). When you’re the head football coach, you take on a lot of responsibilities and for whatever reason I wasn’t meeting some of those needs. Our administration felt like a change of direction was needed.”

A search committee is expected to begin a search for Loyal’s successor next week.

“Coach Loyal is going to try and help that transition be as seamless as possible,” Lassiter said. “And he is still honoring his contract with the school and fulfilling his duties through the end of the school year. Obviously, we want it to be a thorough task but swift at the same time. That process will begin immediately.”

Loyal, a 1985 graduate of Trinity and an offensive coordinator under Randy Ragsdale for six years during the Wildcats’ greatest success (69-10 and the 2003 state title), admitted he was “pretty blindsided” by the decision but repeatedly thanked the players and their parents for their support.

“It’s been a great, great three years,” he said. “I met with them and my wife asked me if I was going to be able to make it through the meeting with these kids and I said, yes, because I don’t have any regrets.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d come back here tomorrow, even knowing what I know would happen. Our kids and our parents have been great.”