Ongoing investigation forces longtime Citadel football coach Mike Tanner to sidelines

Mike Tanner, the most successful high school football coach in this province, may have coached his last game at Citadel High School.

Citadel principal Joe Morrison said Tanner, who has manned the sidelines at Citadel and the former Queen Elizabeth High in Halifax for over 50 years, has stepped aside while the school conducts an investigation. Morrison would not elaborate what the school is investigating.

“We are looking at a situation and he’s just stepping aside for a little bit until we’re finished with our investigation,” Morrison said on Wednesday. He expects a decision by Friday.

“I’m not allowed to talk about anything right now. I’ll be able to share more in the next two days.”

Mike Tanner oversees a Citadel Phoenix football practice in 2007 in Halifax. Tanner has guided his teams to 28 provincial high school football championships. – Saltwire File Photo

Sources said that the investigation pertains to a letter Tanner emailed on Nov. 6 to parents of Citadel players following a recent team fundraising auction.

In the letter, Tanner wrote, “this was the worst Auction (sic) in terms of attendance and money raised since we started holding this event more than 30+ years ago at QEH.

“A good friend once said, when you are looking for an excuse any one will do,” he continued in the letter. “I am wondering if these parents who did not attend couldn’t get their asses off of the sofa or were able to manufacture a lame excuse for not attending.

“Your absence was an indication of how little you care about the program and was disrespectful to (the volunteer committee), to our volunteer coaches who spend countless hours in an effort to make your child a better football player and a better person. Most importantly, it shows a lack of support for your child’s efforts!

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“I hope that I have offended you ‘Never do Anything Parents’ for not attending. Do not expect any kind of an apology, because you have offended me but most importantly you have offended the Football program and your child!”

I’m just going to keep my mouth shut because when I open my mouth up, I tend to put my foot in it too much.

The 74-year-old Tanner chose not to comment on the investigation or the letter when reached by phone on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to make any statement yet,” Tanner said. “I’m going to hold off and see what transpires, if I can get reinstated. I don’t know any of that. I’m just going to keep my mouth shut because when I open my mouth up, I tend to put my foot in it too much.”

Tanner added that he has received “an outpouring of support.”

That includes former Citadel coach and offensive co-ordinator Jon Dyer, who spent 14 seasons alongside Tanner before stepping down last year.

“Mike is Citadel football,” Dyer said. “Mike built the program along with some others over the course of 53 years. He has volunteered probably over 20,000 of unpaid hours. He’s probably coached 10,000 kids, 99 per cent of whom love him to death and are backing him in this situation and have agreed with every thing that he has done.

“It makes me sad that this is how it’s ending.”

Dyer said that Tanner sent a similar email to parents six years ago.

“There was no blowback or anything at that time,” Dyer said. “This could have waited in a few days, let the season be over and then people can part ways without it being a smear campaign.

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“He always protected and supported the most vulnerable kids on the team every year. I think it’s a slap in the face to have him go out this way.”

The Citadel Phoenix celebrate their 2022 School Sport Nova Scotia football championship last November at Huskies Stadium. - Contributed
The Citadel Phoenix celebrate their 2022 School Sport Nova Scotia football championship last November at Huskies Stadium. – Contributed

Tanner, whose coaching career began in 1973 at QEH, has guided his teams to 28 provincial championships, including Citadel’s 39-0 shutout of Auburn Drive in last season’s School Sport Nova Scotia final.

The Phoenix, sporting a younger roster this season, will face the favoured Eagles in Monday’s Division 1 semifinal (7 p.m.) in Cole Harbour. The winner advances to the 2023 provincial final on Nov. 19.

“There was a strong possibility that this was going to be my last season,” Tanner said.

“Our season hasn’t had the greatest of success, having lost three games, which is uncommon for us. We are very, very young. There are 45 kids coming back so I wasn’t sure if I was going to retire this year or see these kids through next year and help develop the young kids next year.

“Regardless what happens in being reinstated, I’m pretty sure this would be my last year.”

The other Division 1 semifinal will feature the Horton Griffins versus the Bay View Sharks on Sunday, 5 p.m. in Bedford.

In the Division 2 semifinals at Burnside, the Sackville Kingfishers face the Lockview Dragons on Saturday, 6 p.m. and the Sydney Academy Wildcats play the Woodlawn Panthers on Sunday, 2 p.m.

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