In the nine years I have been working at The Southampton Press, I’ve dealt with a lot of coaches, and seen a lot come and go.
But Pete Meehan has always been one of my favorites.
Meehan has been a fixture in the East End coaching community for two decades—he’s currently in his 20th season at the helm of the Hampton Bays varsity baseball program and just wrapped up his 17th season as the boys varsity basketball coach at the school.
Covering Meehan’s teams has always been a pleasure—he’s had good teams, average teams and mediocre teams, he’s had big wins and blowout losses, but regardless of his team’s talent or record, he’s always been gracious, forthcoming with information and easy to talk to. In addition to talking X’s and O’s, we’ve also had plenty of candid, off-the-record conversations, and I’ve come to admire Meehan and his coaching philosophy.
I’ve also been present at dozens of Meehan’s games. Like all coaches, he can get emotional at times, but I’ve never witnessed any behavior I would describe as out of hand or inappropriate. There are plenty of local coaches I’ve witnessed push the envelope in far more aggressive ways, in terms of the language they use, the tone of their voice and the atmosphere they create, than Pete Meehan.
Which is why I was quite honestly shocked last week when we received two letters to the editor at The Press complaining about Meehan’s coaching style, alleging that he curses at his players and treats them badly. If someone had told me that a local coach was coming under fire from parents for his behavior, Meehan would have been my last guess. I honestly cannot think of a single instance when I witnessed Meehan using a derogatory tone or foul language with any players on his team.
I have not attended every single game Meehan has coached, so it’s possible I missed something. But the tone of the emailed letters we received last week painted the picture of an angry tyrant who belittles and threatens his players at every turn. That’s something I would have noticed.
That’s not the Pete Meehan I know.
I would describe Meehan as a hard-working teacher and coach who is dedicated to his student-athletes and who takes his job seriously. He isn’t afraid to be honest—he’ll tell me when his basketball team turns the ball over 20-plus times, or when his baseball team walks 10 batters. But in our conversations, he never singles out an individual as the reason for his team’s failures.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that Meehan has come under fire this season. Because I’ve seen this narrative play out before, plenty of times. I’ve watched parent-fueled campaigns against coaches go down on both sides of the canal, and, in some instances, the coaches have lost their jobs. In most cases, it’s been unclear to me why these parents were so adamant in their desire to dismiss the coach, and the reasons they have given often seem very subjective.
Hampton Bays Superintendant Lars Clemensen said earlier this week that district examined the issue with Meehan, spoke with parents and “considers the matter closed,” meaning Meehan isn’t going anywhere, at least for now.
I don’t begrudge parents the right to question people who play a big role in the lives of their children, from teachers to coaches to caregivers. Those people should be held accountable, and held to a high standard. But I think, all too often, parents judge coaches through the biased views they just can’t seem to help bringing into play when it comes to their children’s athletic pursuits. Simply put, sports seem to ignite passions and emotions in us that we normally don’t put on display, and, unfortunately, it can bring out an ugly side.
I know there will be people who disagree with me, who say I don’t see the whole picture, who may think I don’t “get it” because I don’t have a child on the team.
But I think I’ve gotten to know Meehan well enough, have been around him and his teams long enough, and have been doing this job long enough to say this, with confidence: Pete Meehan is one of the good guys.