Randy Burgess won 715 games during his 33 years of coaching water polo at Coronado High School. He led the boys’ team to 16 section championships and the girls team to three titles before he announced his retirement as coach in 2015. In 2000 and 2001 Burgess’s Coronado Islanders were considered to be the best team in the nation. Three of his players, Genai Kerr, Jesse Smith, and Layne Beaubien competed on the United States Olympic team.
In November of last year, county supervisor Ron Roberts named Burgess a Coaching Legend and proclaimed November 3, 2016, as Randall "Randy" Burgess Day throughout San Diego County. “The County of San Diego is committed to recognizing and honoring individuals who are dedicated to the best ideals of professional service and [Randy] Burgess is one such worthy individual,” read the proclamation later approved by county supervisors.
But Burgess is no longer allowed on Coronado High School property, where he taught physical education for over three decades. He is banned from entering Coronado High School’s aquatics center, which is home to the Coronado Aquatics Club.
On April 3, 2017, Rita Beyer, assistant superintendent for the Coronado Unified School District, entered Burgess’s physical education classroom. She confiscated his keys and ordered him to leave school property. He was put on paid administrative leave and told he could not return until further notice.
Last year, according to court files, a student accused Burgess of raping him multiple times in 2011 when he attended middle school. In July, Burgess filed a writ of mandate, to request a judge lift the suspension and allow him to return to work. In a deposition, Burgess called the allegations baseless.
Burgess is no stranger to controversy. In 1995, former aquatics supervisor at the Coronado Municipal Swimming Pool, Patricia Knight, sued Burgess and the City of Coronado. She claimed Burgess made sexually inappropriate statements to her in front of his team. In addition, he berated his players and threw temper tantrums. Knight also claimed Burgess would allow male swimmers to change on the pool deck and on occasion swim naked.
In fact, Burgess was known to be a hard-nosed disciplinarian. Former students and some parents complained about Burgess’s allegedly inappropriate behavior and mistreatment of students.
On the website ratemyteachers.com commenters called Burgess a bully. One parent accused him of staring at her daughter’s body.
“Burgess is constantly subjective to his female students,” wrote one parent. “While it may seem like his jokes are all in good humor, he is actually bullying the students of Coronado High School. [He] constantly cracks jokes at others’ expense and treats young women with great disrespect. I keep my daughter home during swim week now because this perverted man cannot seem to keep his eyes off of my child and her body. This teacher is absolutely horrid and should be removed from his position.”
Says another commenter, “He is a very spiteful person… don’t like his bullying of kids and humiliation in front of others… he should not be allowed to work with minors.”
Other parents say Burgess’s gruff style benefited his players and helped turn Coronado High School’s water-polo program into one of the best in the state. Nancy Blair met Burgess in 1983, when he accepted the head-coach position. Even then, parents criticized him for his vulgar coaching style. But Blair says this made his players, including two of her brothers, her son, and a nephew, better for it.
“People didn’t like him because he was a rough coach,” Blair said during a September 5 interview. “There’s no question that he is an aggressive coach. He doesn’t accept laziness. He demands the kids do their best and those who buy in do just that and they became champions.”
Blair admits that Burgess has been controversial but offers, “Look, 30 years coaching at that level, there’s no chance of a perfect record. Much of that was due to the fact that he had to coach in Coronado where some parents think their children are perfect and can do no wrong. The fact is, Randy Burgess created champions. He did it in a manner that some parents, and players, didn’t like. But in the end, so many former players can and will vouch, including my brothers, son, and nephew, that his way made them better, and in some cases made them into champions.”
Coronado resident John Bowen’s children attended Coronado High School when the water-polo team began to gain fame. “Looking back, all I can tell you is that it was an exciting time to be part of the water-polo program at the time. [Burgess] was very clearly a demanding coach, but that’s about it. There were zero reports of anything to overlook.”
Burgess’s return to the pool and the classroom could take some time. In court filings, his attorney says the district refuses to tell him when he will be able to return to work. The attorney says the district is poised to wait until the boy and his family file a lawsuit and the case moves forward in court, which means Burgess will likely remain on paid leave, and prohibited from the pool, for years to come.
Superintendent of Coronado Unified Karl Mueller declined comment, stating he is “unable to discuss any personnel-related matters.”
However, attorneys for Coronado Unified say the school district has followed protocol. In fact, say court filings, it is Burgess who has not allowed the investigation to unfold. Shortly after he received word of his suspension, Burgess contacted Coronado High School principal Jenny Moore and pleaded with her to allow him to return to the classroom. He sent congratulatory texts to his students and swim-team members.
Furthermore, say district attorneys, Burgess opted to file a public lawsuit and failed to give the district time to investigate the allegations. “Burgess has not been disciplined in any way,” reads a court document. “[He] is fully aware of why he is on paid administrative leave, and is aware that the district has not disciplined him.