TEMECULA ---- An emotional Tommy Leach asked the Temecula school board to let him remain as football coach at Chaparral High during the board's regular meeting Tuesday night.
About 200 people filled the boardroom to show support for the coach, who said he was fired from his job last week.
Leach, one of 16 people to address trustees, recalled how about a year ago he stood in front of the same board to be honored with his team for winning the CIF Southern Section Inland Division championship.
He directed criticism to Chaparral Principal Gil Compton, who Leach said gave him the choice to resign or be fired.
"For me it's hard for someone to make a decision that doesn't know me, doesn't know our students, doesn't know our parents," Leach said. "I think it's wrong. ... To say I'm bad and not the man to lead this program is wrong."
Leach, who remains as a special education teacher at the school, said he wants to continue to coach the football team.
"I love my team. I love my school. I love my district and I want to remain," he told trustees.
While Leach said that Compton fired him, the second-year principal had no comment Monday regarding Leach's status.
When asked after Tuesday's meeting if Leach is the head football at Chaparral, Temecula Valley Unified School District Superintendent Tim Ritter said: "I don't know the answer to that. Has he been officially dismissed? I don't believe so."
Ritter said Compton, who was not at Tuesday's meeting, plans to meet with Leach in the near future.
Leach, 42, had a 47-19 record in five years at Chaparral that included three championship-game appearances and a 12-4 postseason record.
Current and past players and parents spoke in support of Leach Tuesday night.
Parents told the board about how much Leach has done for their sons while players spoke of how he has been a father figure to them.
"Coach Leach has made a definite difference in my life," said Michael Hurst, a second team all-Valley offensive lineman this past season. "I will be able to attend Princeton thanks to what coach Leach has done."
Nobody spoke against Leach, although he does have his detractors.
Despite leading the Pumas to great success on the field, his brash and confident approach didn't always sit well with others.
Leach claimed in a statement published Tuesday in The Californian that he had never been reprimanded in more than 22 years of coaching and education.
But, he was suspended for a game against arch-rival Vista Murrieta in 2009 after he directed his players to point to the scoreboard following a 47-23 victory at Murrieta Valley. He later apologized and conceded he made "a huge mistake."
Ritter said that if Leach is indeed dismissed, it's likely his replacement will come from within the school district.
The school could only hire a coach if they have a teaching position for him, making it difficult to bring in an outside candidate.
Also, veteran educators are unlikely to switch school districts because they would lose the protection they've earned through seniority and could face layoffs in these tough financial times for schools in the state.
Call staff writer Craig Shultz at 951-676-4315, ext. 2625.