By JIM VERTUNO
AP Sports Writer
ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) – Texas high school sports officials showed leniency Thursday after a former assistant football coach denied ordering two players to blindside a referee but acknowledged making comments that may have unintentionally instigated the hit.
In doling out final penalties for the Sept. 4 incident, the University Interscholastic League suspended former San Antonio John Jay assistant Mack Breed for the rest of the school year and placed him on two years’ probation. Breed could have been suspended for up to three years, but UIL officials said his willingness to testify helped reduce the sanctions.
Breed said he wanted to “clear my name” and choked up while defending himself.
Head coach Gary Gutierrez was given a public reprimand and two years’ probation, and the two players involved were suspended from all sports or extracurricular activities for the rest of the academic year.
The suspensions will end the career of one player who is a senior. The other, a sophomore, must agree to speak with UIL officials about the Sept. 4 incident before he’ll be reinstated.
The hit on umpire Robert Watts came near the end of a heated game that included multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and a player ejection. Video of the hit, which Watts has said caused a concussion, created a national stir when it was posted online.
The UIL held three public hearings on the incident, but Thursday was the first time it heard in-person testimony from Breed and Watts, who had been accused of directing racial slurs toward players before he was hit.
Breed denied allegations that he ordered the players to smash Watts. He admitted using harsh profanity on the sideline and saying out loud that Watts should “pay the price,” but insisted it was never meant as an order and wasn’t directed to any players to take action.
“I never told any players to hit or take out” the official, Breed said. “I said a lot of things to my players to get them motivated because they were letting the officiating get the better of them.”
But Breed also said he realized after the game his comments could have unintentionally instigated the hit. Breed said he resigned shortly afterward because he was told by school officials he would be fired.
“I feel like you can coach again in Texas,” panel member James Colbert told Breed. “I feel like you are being honest. You also need to recognize … your comments added to this powder keg.”
Panel members said they were frustrated that the students have not spoken with them to give their version of events.
Watts, who previously submitted written testimony, appeared in person Thursday and again denied allegations by Jay players that he used racial slurs during the game.
“One hundred percent not true,” Watts said. “I did not make any racial slurs toward anyone (and) can’t speculate why they would make something like that up.”
An investigation by the Texas Association of Sports Officials found the claims of racial slurs could not be confirmed. Watts said he is “not well” since the incident but declined to elaborate.
Gutierrez, the head coach, was placed on probation because panel members determined he didn’t do enough to control the emotions brewing on his sideline during a tense game and noted that his players deemed an attack on a game official to be OK.
Panel member Gil Garza said he was disturbed that one of the players who hit Watts stayed in the game.
The entire incident “was unacceptable, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s hard to defend,” Garza said.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the head coach’s name to Gutierrez.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.