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Improper student relationship ‘bull,’ ex-coach says

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By Damon Lawrence

Over a year has passed since former Harriman High School boys basketball coach Jeff King was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
King is finally speaking out about the allegations and the end of his employment with the school system.
“I’m innocent of everything,” he said.

On June 3, 2012, former Harriman High student Courtney Thomas, who had just turned 18, was arrested for breaking into King’s Sweetwater home. The school year had not long ended.
Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said school resource officer and former detective Jon French looked into allegations that King and Thomas had been having an inappropriate relationship.
No charges were ever brought against King.
“Because all that stuff was bull,” he insists.
King said Thomas called him seeking help after the school year had ended.
“I had told her where I lived in June,” he said. “She came down where I was staying. Neighbors saw her, and it pretty much blew up from there.”
According to Sweetwater police, officer Brandon Cansler was dispatched to King’s residence to investigate a burglary in progress after a neighbor reported seeing a black female crawl through a window in the back of the house.
Cansler said officers found Thomas on the floor in a bedroom closest.
“That is something that was blown out of proportion,” King said.
King said he couldn’t go into further details because of a pending divorce case.
“That’s been used against me in divorce court,” he said.
According to the state’s 2012 report card, Harriman High School had an enrollment of 328 students. In a school with those kind of numbers, King contends it would be hard to keep a relationship with a student a secret.
“This guy (French) was the resource officer in my school for years,” he said. “If I was having an affair with kids, I don’t believe there’s a way to hide that in such a small school. You’re not going to be able to hide something like that.”
Under King’s guidance, Harriman reached the state tournament in 2010 and finished with a 21-11 record.
The Blue Devils went 23-8 the next season, and King was the District 3-A coach of the year.
“We had a pretty good program and good success,” he said.
“Why wasn’t I asked back? You tell me. There’s coaches in Roane County in major sports that have losing records.”
Harriman Principal Scott Calahan notified King in a letter dated June 16, 2012, that he would not be returning as boys basketball coach.
“Through much thought and consideration, the administrative team has determined that it is in the best interest of Harriman High School and the men’s basketball program that, effective immediately, you will no longer perform the duties of coach for Harriman High School in any capacity,” the letter said.
Twelve days later, then director of schools Toni McGriff wrote a letter to King notifying him of his transfer to Ridge View Elementary School.
King said he left Tennessee and moved to North Carolina before the start of the 2012-13 school year. He said he left because he lost his job as boys basketball coach, not because of the allegations.
“Obviously they can make changes whenever they want to, but Roane County didn’t make a lot of changes in the 10 years when I was there,” King said. “Why I was let go? I don’t think it was a problem with our record or anything because we had a pretty good program.”
Teachers receive a supplement to coach sports, and King said losing his job as boys basketball coach hurt him financially.
“To take that away, that’s a pretty big deal, so I left Roane County for economic reasons,” he said.
During the interview, King repeatedly painted himself as a victim, insinuating the allegations of the inappropriate relationship were made to make him look bad.
However, when pressed on the subject he declined to mention who he thought was behind the alleged plot.
“I have to kind of be careful with what I say because I’m not sure how libel goes,” he said.