Fruitland football coach stole pages from a rival’s playbook. Now he’s suspended.

by MICHAEL LYCKLAMA, IDAHO STATESMAN
| September 28, 2020 12:07 PM

Add another chapter to the rivalry between the Fruitland and Weiser high school football programs.

Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy was suspended at least two games for photographing handwritten plays from the Weiser playbook and sharing them with members of the Emmett coaching staff.

The District Three Board of Control issued the two-game suspension last week and also fined Fruitland High School $1,000. Tracy told the Statesman in prepared remarks the Fruitland School Board also suspended him.

Fruitland Principal Marci Haro and Athletic Director Russ Wright declined to reveal the length of the district’s own suspension because it was a personnel matter.

“Although it is common practice for coaches to share materials amongst themselves, I crossed the line and was wrong to share those pictures,” Tracy said in his prepared statement. “I made a serious lapse of judgment, and I am embarrassed by my decision. I sincerely regret sharing those pictures, and I am extremely sorry for not maintaining the high standards I have held for myself for 19 years at (Fruitland High School).”

The District Three Board of Control also levied a $750 fine against Emmett, the Emmett School District announced Tuesday in a news release.

The District Three Board of Control serves as the local high school sports governing body in the Treasure Valley. Its president, Terry Beck, said the theft represents an ethical violation for Fruitland and Emmett.

“Ethics say you don’t get something and send it to someone else,” Beck said. “On the other side, if you get something, you let somebody know in a timely manner.”

Tracy did not take questions Wednesday, instead referring back to his statement, which apologized to the Fruitland and Weiser communities.

Tracy served the first game of his two-game suspension last week against New Plymouth. He’ll serve the second Friday when the No. 4-ranked Grizzlies (3-0) host Weiser (1-2) in the 3A Snake River Valley opener for both teams.

FRUITLAND STEALS WEISER PLAYS

Tracy admitted in his statement he took pictures of what he thought were Weiser plays this summer. Haro and Wright declined to provide any more details Wednesday. But Weiser coach Tom Harrison provided the Statesman with his account of what happened.

Harrison said Tracy gained access to his playbook through his brother, John Tracy, a coach with Weiser’s middle school program. Harrison said Tracy took photos of the Weiser playbook over the summer and later shared them with other coaches.

Harrison added he doesn’t believe John Tracy had any role in the theft.

“His brother is pretty mad at him,” Harrison said.

Weiser didn’t learn of the theft until the Wolverines traveled to Emmett for a Sept. 4 game. Before kickoff, a Weiser fan found an abandoned notebook at Emmett High and gave it to Harrison.

Harrison said he immediately recognized photos of his own hand-drawn plays in the notebook.

“It was all of our runs, all of our offense,” Harrison said. “It was everything from obvious passes, to play actions, to our run and our goal line. It was all there.”

Harrison said he asked Emmett coach Rich Hargitt where he got photographs of his plays after the Wolverines’ 42-14 loss. Harrison said he didn’t get a straight answer that night, but by the next week, Hargitt informed him someone in the 3A SRV texted him the photos over the summer.

Emmett issued a public apology Tuesday. It noted no one at Emmett asked for Weiser’s plays, but it added the Huskies should have notified Weiser regardless.

“We accept full responsibility and accept the punishment handed down from the District Three Board of Control,” the apology reads. “After conducting an internal investigation and meeting with our head coach, it was clear he was remorseful and realized the gravity of the error. We feel confident nothing like this will ever happen again.”

Hargitt told the Statesman he did not have clearance from his school district to comment for this story.

INVESTIGATION ENDS WITH FRUITLAND, EMMETT

Fruitland and Emmett self-reported the theft to the Board of Control. Beck said the Board of Control’s investigation didn’t find any evidence Tracy shared the plays with anyone besides Emmett.

The Statesman independently contacted the head coaches of every other team in the 3A SRV (Homedale, McCall-Donnelly, Parma and Payette), and they all denied ever receiving any information on Weiser’s playbook from Tracy.

“Had I received anything, I would have been the first one to call (Harrison) and let him know how ridiculous it was to receive such a thing,” Homedale coach Matt Holtry said.

McCall-Donnelly coach Lee Leslie questioned why anyone would go through the trouble of stealing pages from a playbook.

“You can see every coach’s playbook by watching film,” Leslie said. “This whole thing is ridiculous. It’s unethical as hell. But the reality is that’s why you watch film — to get prepared.”

Parma coach Alex Willson and Payette coach Kip Crofts both wrote in text messages to the Statesman they would never accept that kind of information from an opponent.

“I believe in the integrity of the game and how it should be played,” Willson wrote. “There is no room for that sort of behavior in football or coaching, period.”

WEISER SAYS IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON

Harrison, who has coached in Idaho for 38 years and won a state-leading 10 state titles, said pieces of information often leak out of programs through coaching changes, player transfers or just word of mouth. But he added he’s never encountered any situation like this.

Still, he said the Wolverines have moved on and he wants to put the situation in the past.

“It’s an unfortunate deal,” Harrison said. “Sometimes competition gets the best of us. I’m sure the Fruitland coach wishes he hadn’t done that. I’m not saying he’s a bad person.”

Fruitland’s assistant coaches will lead the Grizzlies during Tracy’s suspension. Tracy said in his statement he looks forward to returning to the sideline at the end of the suspension.

Haro added Tracy has not lost his coaching position.

“Ryan is absolutely still our football coach,” Haro said. “Ryan made a mistake. I stand by him and I support my coach 100%. He has 19 years of stellar service with our school district. He has had a spotless record. He is good for kids, and he is what’s best for our football program.”

Tracy is in his eighth season as the Grizzlies’ head coach. He has led Fruitland to a 61-20 record, two state championships and two state runner-up trophies.

He previously was an assistant coach for 12 years under Bruce Schlaich, who built Fruitland into a state powerhouse.

“Please don’t judge 19 years and 365 days of hard work by one day,” said Wright, the Fruitland athletic director. “He shouldn’t have done that. But I think we’ve all been in that boat, and I hope we would all realize that.”