Nearly a month after a former Mountain Pointe coach found to have shared game strategy with opponents, Pride football coach Rich Wellbrock is ready to move forward with the season.
“With our situation, I told (players) yesterday that this was happening today, and we are moving forward. Period,” Wellbrock said in a press conference held at the Tempe Union High School District office last week.
“Come the time we are done with this we are moving forward as a collective whole,” he said. “We are going to keep grinding to get to where we want to be as a football team and a football program.”
It was the first time Wellbrock addressed the media since an investigation by Tempe Union officials revealed former Mountain Pointe girls’ basketball coach and assistant for the football program Justin Hager had shared plays, formations and player information with opponents of the football and boys’ basketball programs using an anonymous email address dating back to 2017.
The Tempe Union board voted unanimously Wednesday to terminate Hager, who was hired at Mountain Pointe in 2016.
Hager initially resigned after a review of the district’s findings on Sept. 13, but his resignation was denied by the board.
It was also during that Sept. 13 meeting with district officials Hager admitted to using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org to send anonymous emails to opposing coaches.
Hager initially denied being behind the account. A motive for his actions is still unknown.
“He did not say why he did it,” Wellbrock said. “From my standpoint, I don’t know why he did it. He said, ‘I don’t know why I would do this.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how, this isn’t you.’”
Wellbrock was notified three times of the anonymous email account sending information about his program.
The first instance came in 2018 from a Brophy Prep football coach. At the time, Wellbrock thought it was nothing more than a disgruntled former coach of his. He was notified again in March 2019 by current Mountain Pointe offensive coordinator Mark Mejia.
Again, Wellbrock thought it was nothing more than a disgruntled former coach.
But after Faith Lutheran Coach Vernon Fox in Las Vegas alerted Wellbrock to the severity of the information sent to him in August, the Mountain Pointe staff knew the situation needed to be reviewed.
“We didn’t know the depth until Vernon Fox from Faith Lutheran let us know,” Wellbrock said. “I didn’t quite realize the depth of the information that was going out. When we found out what the depth was, that got pretty serious because of the detailed information.”
According to a statement of charges against Hager released by Tempe Union officials on Wednesday, Griffin Wellbrock, Rich Wellbrock’s son and assistant coach on the football team, attempted to get into the account.
After a few steps on Yahoo’s system, Hager’s district email appeared as the recovery email for the WalterPayton12 account.
Wellbrock confronted Hager about it in his office, asking for the code sent to Hager’s cell phone from Yahoo, to access the account.
After two failed attempts, Wellbrock read the code from Hager’s phone himself and gained access. It was there district officials say hundreds of emails to opposing coaches, district staff and members of the media were found.
Only some of the emails were recovered by the district, as the account was deleted. But the extent of the situation weighed heavily on all involved.
“Anger. Disappointment,” Wellbrock said. “The same feeling anyone in this room would have. It’s more about the kids than anything else of how they didn’t have certain opportunities and weren’t given the chance to be successful.
“Whether the information was used or not, it goes through those kids’ heads now and went through those kids’ head in the past.”
Tempe Union released the recovered emails sent to several Arizona coaches, which sparked internal investigations, to the media and public.
Several schools came forward to say the information was not used, and most of the emails were deleted or reported to school administrators.
There’s no indication from any of the parties involved, including Tempe Union officials, any of the information was used against Mountain Pointe.
“This was never a ‘got ya!’ We wanted to stop detailed information from going out about out program,” Wellbrock said. “To our opponents, we didn’t know the depth of where this investigation was going to go. To my peers, I wanted to make sure that’s well-known.
“Whether it was used, whether it was not used, this was never meant to do this. This was 100 percent meant to stop the information from being sent out of our program.”
Wellbrock said the Mountain Pointe community is comming together to rally behind the football team as well as the boys’ and girls’ basketball programs during a difficult time. Students around the school are drawing closer together.
“Our kids have been resilient. I couldn’t be more pleased from them for how they approached this situation,” Wellbrock said. “When I say kids, I’m talking about our football program as well as our girls’ basketball program.
“Watching them go through this, it has really brought them together and it’s been fun to watch.”
Wellbrock is impressed by his team’s ability to fight off adversity and move forward. More than anything, he believes everyone involved in the program will be excited to play on their home field.
“I know the kids are excited,” Wellbrock said. “I know the parents are excited that they don’t have to travel anywhere. We are going to come out and get after it the best we can. The biggest thing is that it’s just adversity and how do we fight through that.
“One of the things I’ve always said after a tough loss, if this is the worst thing that has happened in our lives, we are going to be fine.”