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By MATT DANIELS
Rantoul Press sports editor
Shortly after he was hired as Rantoul Township High School’s athletic director and head football coach, Joe Bendoraitis said he wanted to embed himself in a community and have more stability with his job.
Having bounced around the coaching circuit — five assistant coaching gigs (Quincy University, Joliet Junior College, Olivet Nazarene University, Manteno High School and Lincoln-Way East High School) in six seasons since he graduated from McKendree University in 2005 — it appeared he had found what he was looking for at RTHS.
“It’s hard to be a college coach and be part of a community,” Bendoraitis said in late May after he was hired at the May 15 RTHS board meeting. “You look at some of these college coaches and you ask them where they’re from, I don’t know if they can really tell you. They’re really journeymen. Not saying that’s not a great lifestyle, but I’m looking for more stability and being able to embed myself in a community.”
Bendoraitis never found those two components during his brief stay at RTHS.
Bendoraitis resigned, effective immediately, last Wednesday afternoon, only five months after he started his dual position of RTHS athletic director and head football coach.
“Mr. Bendoraitis resigned from the district for family and personal reasons,” RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio said in a prepared statement. “The district will make efforts to try to find his replacement.”
Amerio declined further comment on why Bendoraitis resigned or any situations that might have prompted the abrupt resignation.
“That’s the statement we’re making,” Amerio said.
Bendoraitis, 30, had his last day at the school on Thursday, Nov. 29. He had not been at work before he resigned, with Amerio declining to comment about why he was not at work.
“(The situation) in no way involves anything with students or student safety,” Amerio said on Dec. 7.
Several messages left on Bendoraitis’ cell phone seeking comment during the past three weeks were not returned.
Whoever RTHS hires to replace him will be the school’s fourth athletic director in a whirlwind two-year span and third football head coach in as many seasons.
RTHS athletic director Sally Bryan retired in mid-December 2011, and the school board decided at its September 2011 meeting to not hire Amerio’s recommendation of former RTHS boys basketball head coach and teacher Chris Wagner.
Allen Jones Sr. was appointed interim athletic director at the November 2011 board meeting, a position he held until Bendoraitis officially started at the school on July 1.
Bendoraitis replaced Shane Carter as the Eagles’ head football coach. Carter’s contract was not renewed by the RTHS board at its meeting last February after Carter spent four seasons leading the program, which has not made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2005. The Eagles have won only two games each of the last two seasons — both against Stanford Olympia — and went 1-8 under Bendoraitis.
It’s not clear which direction the district and the board — which at its Dec. 10 meeting went into closed session for an hour to discuss an employee issue, but did not act on anything discussed in closed sessions — wants to go in filling the two vacant positions.
“We have a couple different options, and we’ll see what we can come up with,” Amerio said. “We’ll see which one works best for us. Our main goal for the athletic department is to have a stable leader of that department, somebody who can show some investment into the community, so we know they’re going to stick around. It’s the same things we were looking for last year. We’ll probably take a really close look at all those things this next time around.”
When contacted about Bendoraitis’ situation, several RTHS head coaches declined comment, citing an email Amerio and RTHS Principal Todd Wilson sent out last Wednesday night to direct all questions and comments about the matter to Amerio.
“My focus right now is where do we go from here,” Amerio said. “I don’t dwell too much on what’s happened. I look at how things went and how things were handled anytime a situation comes up. We discuss it, and we move forward. Right now, our main focus is, ‘OK, what do we do to move forward and get through this semester?’ More long-term it’s, ‘What’s the plan?’ That’s where we’re working right now.”
Bendoraitis’ salary was $46,000 when he was hired. Amerio declined comment on how much of that Bendoraitis would receive or how the district would proceed in that matter.
“Within the next month (we’ll) be able to have more information,” he said.
When reached on Thursday, Jones said he had not been contacted by anyone at RTHS to gauge his interest in filling an interim athletic director role similar to what he did during the second semester of last school year. Jones did say having that position again would interest him.
“I had a ball doing it the last time,” Jones said.
In the immediate days after Bendoraitis’ resignation, Wilson said he was the contact person for any athletic department-related questions.
“Right now I’m handling it,” Wilson said. “I’m not sure how long this will go on. We’re just trying to make it business as usual and make sure there’s not any interruptions in the kids’ day.”
Wilson declined comment when asked about possible reasons for Bendoraitis’ resignation.
A mandatory meeting was held at RTHS on Friday after school for all returning football players and any players interested in playing next year.
Mitch Wilson, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator last season, said the meeting was held to inform players of Bendoraitis’ resignation. A football banquet was scheduled for Sunday, but was canceled in the aftermath of Bendoraitis’ resignation. The program held a meeting on Nov. 1 to outline its winter strength and conditioning program, which began on Nov. 5.
Mitch Wilson said he helped supervise those workouts in the two-week stretch when Bendoraitis was not at school before he resigned, and will continue to assist in those workouts once students return from winter break.
Mitch Wilson declined comment about reasons for Bendoraitis’ resignation, but did say he would “probably” apply for the head coaching job.
No other possible internal candidates confirmed their interest by press time. Amerio said the district plans to post the job online at some point this week.
“Obviously we have to get somebody in there to fill that (athletic director) position for at least the (second semester),” Amerio said. “We’ll see what (applicants) we get, and then make a decision from there. If it comes down to where we have to have an interim like we did when we had Allen last year, I’m not too concerned about it.”