New Team Needed: Firing the Coach is a Tough Decision, but Haslam Needs to Make it

There comes a time when a college athletics director has to decide to change coaches. The fans and the boosters—the stakeholders if you will—decide that the current coach can't get it done and for the good of the program a change has to be made. It's often a difficult choice.

Gov. Bill Haslam ought to talk with his father about a situation like that. Big Jim has certainly been faced with helping make these tough decisions at UT over the years.

What the governor has to decide is whether, for the sake of his education reform program, he needs to find someone other than Kevin Huffman to carry the ball.

Who still supports Education Commissioner Huffman?

Last year, 60-odd superintendents signed a letter asking that he be replaced.

Legislators don't appear to be big fans, the House rejected his signature issue by more than 80 bipartisan votes. Only a last-minute scrambling compromise allowed Common Core a reprieve and a delay of only one year.

Teachers are frustrated by the speed of Common Core implementation and an unfair evaluation system.

Then Huffman's department presided over the delay in delivering TCAP scores so the all-important tests couldn't be used for student grading. This after the students crammed and prepped for the test for most of the year. Parents have a right to be outraged.

The credibility of the department is so low that critics are suspicious about the scores. House Democrats have put in a request for internal e-mails concerning the delay and Republicans have asked the comptroller's office to investigate.

It appears that Huffman has the one supporter necessary to keep his job. That would be Haslam. The governor had voiced support for his commissioner in the past. But the governor needs to step back and ask himself some questions.

Which is more important to him, his education reforms or Huffman?

Has the department's reputation, relations with the Legislature and with teachers across the state reached a point where recovery isn't possible?

If the department's reputation is in tatters, then people will start to question the integrity of the scores. These scores are used to decide whether teachers and administrators get fired or not. Would you want to be in the position these teachers and administrators find themselves in today?

There are also lawsuits out there by teachers who want to make the case they were unfairly evaluated. The TCAP screw-up may make a judge wonder about the infallibility of the testing program.

Haslam is cruising to re-election and he may make different cabinet choices for his second term. But for his education department, can he wait that long?

Next January, when we assume Haslam will receive his second coronation, the Legislature will be back. Some of them will be spoiling for a fight over Common Core. Democrats will be coming from one side and Republicans from the other, but they will meet in the middle to pummel Huffman like a piñata. If there is to be a new commissioner, that person needs to be in place and prepared well before next session.

The best possible person to be the face of Haslam's education reform should be a Tennessee educator who can talk to the Legislature. Someone with classroom experience who can relate to teachers and reassure them. Someone untainted by association with the vultures out there trying to siphon off taxpayer's education money.

There are reforms of the reforms that can be used to alleviate some of the teacher and administrator angst. But it requires an honest broker to do tweaks that Haslam can live with and reduce the level of opposition out here in the real world.

The governor also needs an experienced lobbyist respected by the legislators who can count. Getting blind-sided by an 80-vote margin on the House floor is inexcusable. (And any Common Core supporters who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a lobbyist who didn't see it coming ought to be ashamed.) Haslam needs a new coach if he expects to win.