Until recently, I served with dedication and distinction as an assistant coach in several sports at Archbishop Spalding High School. Without warning, after softball practice on March 4, 2022, I met with Athletic Director Jon Mellinger for a scheduled meeting where he informed me that then-Principal and now-President Brian Kohler terminated me, effective immediately, from my football, girls’ ice hockey, and softball coaching jobs at Archbishop Spalding High School with the support of now-retired President Kathy Mahar and Jon Mellinger himself.
To my knowledge, none of my head coaches received notice or an opportunity to advocate for me. Brian Kohler never had a conversation with me whatsoever since we were formally introduced in Summer 2021 when he arrived on campus as the new principal. I do not believe concrete evidence was offered to justify my firing other than vague references to “lack of a culture fit.” Team parents can speak to the baseless nature of that accusation. The School also alluded to concerns about my social media, which has been nothing but positive in promoting the school and its student-athletes. This termination was done in violation of written policies of the Archdiocese of Baltimore giving due process to at-will employees.
Upon the urging of numerous football, girls’ ice hockey, and softball team parents, I retained counsel: Joyce Smithey and Reuben Wolfson of Smithey Law Group LLC to exhaust all viable options to secure full reinstatement to Archbishop Spalding High School.
Unfortunately, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Archbishop Spalding have not reinstated me to date, supporting Brian Kohler’s decision to terminate me despite my belief that the termination was unlawful, devoid of due process, and in bad faith. As justification for my termination, Archbishop Spalding advised me it had several specific issues with my employment.
First, Brian Kohler purportedly took issue with a Christmas card I created and disseminated annually around the Christmas holiday. Since 2016, I have created Christmas card collages that feature photographs of me with my current and former student-athletes, colleagues, and friends. My intent and the spirit of the card each year is to celebrate and honor the people in my life. In my interview before I was hired at Spalding, I showed my Head Football Coach my Christmas cards from previous years to inform him that this is what I do every year to celebrate and recognize my student-athletes. My Christmas cards have been praised by my head coaches, brought positive attention to the school nationwide, are a huge hit with team parents, and make student-athletes feel happy, seen, heard, and important.
My Christmas card was not a problem in 2020 at Archbishop Spalding under a different Principal and Athletic Director. It purportedly became a problem in December 2021 under Brian Kohler. In January 2022, Athletic Director Jon Mellinger informed me that I have “not done anything improper,” but to be aware that the school has the right to use the name, image, and likeness of the students and that does not necessarily transfer to a coach.
The next purported issue is related to the first. For the same reasons regarding name, image, and likeness rights, Archbishop Spalding’s administration apparently had concerns regarding my personal social media pages, which I use to promote my student-athletes and recognize them for their achievements. This is a standard industry practice in the coaching profession nationwide, which I follow according to best practices and is conduct other Archbishop Spalding employees have engaged in without consequence. Indeed, other teachers and coaches at the School have engaged in this industry standard practice without issue, let alone termination of employment.
My head coaches, who directly supervised me, all gave me exemplary reviews and can speak to the fact that I am “all-in” on the success and well-being of the students and the school.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore apparently believes that I deserved to be terminated because I worked too hard and cared about the kids’ successes too much. Isn’t that what every parent wants from their children’s teachers and coaches?
I have committed zero misconduct whatsoever. I have been the consummate professional tirelessly dedicated to my craft. I am a devout Catholic and strong advocate of Archbishop Spalding’s Catholic educational mission. I was nominated for the 2021 National High School Coach of the Year award by the preeminent strength coaching association in the country for my work at Archbishop Spalding in 2021.
The celebration and promotion of my student-athletes on my annual Christmas card and on my social media accounts is purportedly what got me fired by Spalding’s administrators, but my esteemed colleagues continue to promote students on their personal social media pages without fear of termination. That speaks to the bad faith and unfair dealing Spalding engaged in with respect to my termination.
I am asking to be fully reinstated to my football, girls’ ice hockey, softball, and substitute teaching jobs at Archbishop Spalding High School immediately.
I have had some very unique experiences in my life, but every day I got to spend with my Spalding student-athletes and mentor them was a great day and invaluable experience.
I have a plethora of opportunities and options with my resume and reputation, but I strongly desire to be at Archbishop Spalding High School because I formed connections with student-athletes, colleagues, and the community there and owe it to those student-athletes to continue to develop their academic, athletic, and life skills as a valued member of the Spalding community.
I pray that people who hear my story spread the word across the community and take action to persuade the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Archbishop Spalding administrators to fully reinstate me to Archbishop Spalding High School immediately.
Phil Tran, JD, MSED, CSCS,*D