Just three days before the first football game of the season and almost two weeks after the football team had started practices this season, the Riverside-Brookfield High School Township District 208 school board voted 4-3 to retain Otto Zeman as head football coach at RB.
Late at night on Aug. 25, after a closed session discussion, a motion to officially reappoint Zeman, now in his 28th year as head football coach at RB, was approved.
Sue Kleinmeyer, Larry Herbst, MariAnn Leibrandt and school board president Jim Marciniak voted to retain Zeman, who also serves as RB’s athletic director, as head football coach. Board members, Dan Moon, Matt Sinde and Mike Welch voted against having Zeman coach this year. Moon, Sinde and Welch were elected to the school board in April.
By the time the vote on Zeman was taken, members of the press and the public who had attended the school board meeting had gone home for the night. The vote came as part of what is a normally routine approval of administration recommendations of extra duty assignments for the school year.
“It was the recommendation of the administration, and I know no reason to countermand the recommendation of the administration,” said Herbst, the longest serving member of the school board, explaining why he voted to retain Zeman as head football coach.
Marciniak declined to say why he voted in favor of Zeman remaining as head coach.
“I really don’t have a comment on that,” Marciniak said on Monday.
Marciniak said that the vote on stipend positions happens every August and is normally routine and not controversial.
“Typically it’s a formality by that point,” Marciniak said. “All of these appointments have been made at one time or the other at some point during the school year.”
Zeman has been the head football coach at RB since 1982 and has a career record of 157 wins and 114 losses. He is the winningest coach in RB history.
But he has become a controversial figure in the RB community. Earlier in the meeting Jerry Buttimer, a former Riverside village trustee and an RB parent who has frequently criticized and clashed with Zeman in recent years, filed a formal grievance with RB. Buttimer alleged various missteps and shortcomings of Zeman and said that RB’s administration had not responded to complaints that parents made to the administration about Zeman in 2008.
Moon said the all the issues around Zeman influenced his vote.
“When I hear things that are objectionable or are possibly counter to policy, proven or unproven, it still gives me a sense of doubt,” Moon said.
Moon said Zeman’s name came up often as he was talking to voters while he was campaigning for the school board earlier this year.
“During our campaign there was a considerable amount of opinion about Mr. Zeman and not all of it was good,” said Moon. “Otto is a lighting rod for either loving him or having resentment for him.”
District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette met with Buttimer last week and is investigating the grievance.
“I am working right now to sort out what the specific elements of the complaint are,” Bonnette said on Monday. “I will then be researching that by whatever means necessary to come up with some conclusion or recommendation.”
Bonnette confirmed that he has met with Buttimer about the grievance.
“I have met with him and I will certainly be following up with people who filed the complaint as well as others as part of the investigation,” Bonnette said.
On Monday, Zeman declined to comment when asked for his reaction to the school board vote or the grievance filed by Buttimer.