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Does Steubenville's embattled football coach deserve a contract extension?

The storied coach accused of obstructing a rape trial could still face criminal charges

Despite lingering questions about his involvement in a rape case involving two Steubenville High School football players that roiled the small Ohio town, the head coach of Steubenville's football team this week received a contract extension from the school for his administrative work.

The local school board quietly granted the coach, Reno Saccoccia, a two-year extension Monday to his administrative contract. That contract is separate from Saccoccia's coaching deal — school superintendent Michael McVey told the Atlantic Wire that the contract was considered "supplemental" to his coaching contract, which has a few years left on it. But it's sparking plenty of blowback because some believe Saccoccia tried to thwart the headline-grabbing rape case. 

It "absolutely defies belief" that Saccoccia landed a contract extension, says Yahoo Sports' Cameron Smith. "To say that the Steubenville school board's decision is profoundly tone deaf is a remarkable understatement."

Last month, two Steubenville football players, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl and documenting the assault on social media via text and picture messages sent to classmates. The case rose to national prominence amid allegations that town officials, desperate to sweep away a scandal that would reflect poorly on their cherished football program, sought to undermine the investigation. 

Saccoccia received the most criticism for allegedly trying to cover up the rape to protect his players and his program, an accusation based in part on a text, revealed in the trial's proceedings, that one of the players sent shortly after the assault took place. 

"I got Reno," Mays texted a friend. "He took care of it and shit ain't gonna happen, even if they did take it to court. Like he was joking about it so I'm not worried."

Saccoccia contends he was initially unaware of the incident and did not talk about it with his players.

A grand jury is set to convene next week to determine if any additional charges should be filed — namely, whether any town or school officials failed to report child abuse, as is required by Ohio law. That could very well mean that Saccoccia, the storied coach who has led Steubenville to three state titles in his 30-year tenure, could wind up in legal trouble of his own.

"For that, the coach doesn't get fired, but instead gets treated with the same 'shit happens' attitude he apparently instilled in his players," says ThinkProgress' Travis Waldron. "There are no winners in Steubenville, no matter what Saccocia's record on the football field says, because Steubenville is what America's rape culture looks like." 

An online petition calling for Saccoccia's firing has attracted almost 135,000 signatures. The petition does not directly accuse the coach of any legal wrongdoing, but argues that the allegations are so serious they at least warrant a suspension while the investigation is ongoing. 

"It seems that Mr. Saccoccia not only knew of the rapes, he attempted to cover it up," the petition reads. "This is atrocious behavior and at the very least warrants suspension pending investigation. While I believe his above actions of victim blaming, verbal assault and threats are good enough reason for dismissal; these new allegations most certainly need to be addressed." 

To be sure, Saccoccia has not been charged with anything at this time. Though his brash demeanor throughout the trial raised questions about his culpability, the grand jury could determine that there's no hard evidence against him, or that he broke no law. 

"To be clear, that's just a text message," notes the Atlantic Wire's Alexander Abad-Santos. "Mays could easily have been exaggerating about Saccoccia's involvement, and proving otherwise might prove difficult."

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