Timpview coach Louis Wong vows to fight suspension as supporters charge to his defense

Published: Wednesday, March 14 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Read more: Details of Timpview High audit revealed

PROVO — Louis Wong says he isn't just devastated by the Provo School District's decision to suspend him, he and his attorney believe he's being blamed for school and district practices that were in place before he was hired.

After a visibly tired Wong met with the Deseret News Wednesday to answer allegations of financial improprieties being leveled at him, about 200 supporters rallied to his defense at a school board meeting.

The successful Timpview High School football coach was passionate in defending himself against the allegations and said he plans to appeal the school district's decision to suspend him for 30 days without pay pending termination. That means he'll have a hearing within 15 days. If he's unsuccessful, he'll be fired.

Wong was suspended Tuesday after months of investigations by the state and district. Questions about the financial practices of the coach and school administration arose during fundraising efforts for a state-of-the-art weight room on the high school’s campus.

A state audit and subsequent probe by Provo School District officials alleges a number of questionable financial transactions, including charging personal car repairs to the school, failure to run background checks on some assistant coaches, failure to secure pre-authorization for travel, questionable reimbursement for personal expenses, meals and gifts when working for an outside agency, inconsistent and inadequate receipts and records, as well as soliciting and accepting personal compensation from a clothing company.

Wong insisted Wednesday he hasn't done anything wrong and that he is being fired for common practices in the district.

Angered by the district's actions, patrons crowded into the Provo School Board's regular Wednesday meeting in hopes of asking questions and voicing their support for the high school coach who holds four state titles in his seven seasons.

The school board asked for civility at the beginning of the meeting. But when officials announced that public comment would be limited to 30 minutes, and that questions asked directly of board members would not be answered, the gathering quickly grew rowdy. Supporters shouted out comments or questions, even a few names, while Board President Kristine Manwaring continually tried to keep the emotional meeting moving and cordial, several times by pounding her gavel and raising her voice.

Among those who spoke on the coach's behalf was assistant football coach Don Olsen, who was hired 17 years ago by former head coach and current assistant coach Chad Van Orden. He said he was hired not only to help coach but also to raise money for the football program.

"I can count one time that we had a meeting where there was any training involved in fundraising," he said. "How can you throw a man under the bus for his fundraising and have no policy, no training? This man is going to lose his job or has lost his job because of you? Seems to me it's pretty dysfunctional. ... This community needs coach Wong. These boys need coach Wong."

Thunderous applause followed Olsen's remarks, which echoed what Wong and his attorney, Elizabeth Dunning, told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview hours earlier.

When asked what kind of training the district provided to him regarding reimbursement requests, travel pre-authorizations and accounting for expenses and expenditures, Wong said, "Zero."

He said that when he took over head coaching duties seven years ago, he relied on a system that was already in place. Issues would arise now and then and he learned from them, he said. While he asked questions when he had them, he was basically left to figure out the system for himself.