WHAT KIND of man...? So many of the questions you have for Micah Grimes begin that way. What kind of man looks at 100--0 on a scoreboard and sees nothing wrong? What kind of man can lay his head on the pillow in peace after allowing the high school girls' basketball team he coaches to whip an opponent so severely? What kind of man feels no need to apologize or to explain after the mounting of an Internet campaign to nominate him for Worst Person in the World? A bully? An egotist? What kind of man?
You have been wondering those things about Grimes for more than two months, ever since his Covenant School team hung the hundred on Dallas Academy in the now infamous matchup of tiny Dallas private schools. The best he can do is to make clear what kind of man he is not. "I am not a monster," he says. "I'm not heartless. I'm not someone who would ever go out and try to humiliate an opponent."
Grimes tells you this is the first interview he has given since the Jan. 13 rout. Until now his last public comment had come two weeks later in a post on his youth team's website, divorcing himself from the apology that the Covenant headmaster placed on the school's site. That same day Grimes was fired. Since then he has received hundreds of e-mails, many of them supportive, but far more calling his actions shameful. He was shaken by the intensity of the anger and stunned by its ubiquity. His wife, Felicia, found stories about the controversy from as far away as Australia. Australia? Grimes thought. They hate me in Australia?
Hearing this, you are tempted to feel sympathy for him, especially since at 30, Grimes isn't some stubborn old martinet who believes—as Rush Limbaugh suggested when citing the score in a recent speech—that a failure to win by the largest possible margin is what's wrong with America. But then you come back to the hundred and the nothing. Neither number happens by accident, does it?
Grimes says Covenant reached 100 in part because, with only eight players, he always had at least two starters in the game. But what about the 0? Couldn't the Knights have allowed Dallas Academy to dribble in for a layup? Just one? "If we put our hands down at our sides and stand like statues, isn't that more insulting to the other team?" Grimes replies. Instead, he says, he dialed back his defense a bit, calling off the full-court press when it was 25--0 and dropping into a 2--3 zone.
Some Dallas Academy team officials and parents offer a different account, saying that Covenant was pressing and shooting threes well into the fourth quarter. But neither side has offered proof of its version of events. The score was 59--0 at halftime, at which point Grimes says he instructed the Covenant timekeeper to keep the clock running. "After the game I asked Micah what he was thinking once the margin got so big," says Chris Christian, whose daughter, all-state point guard Savannah Smith, scored 48 points. "He said, 'I just wanted it to be over.' Does that sound like somebody who was taking pleasure in it?"
Could Grimes have done more to keep the score down? Definitely. But does that tell you what kind of man he is? Or does it tell you more that he continues to have weekly meetings with his former players? That he refuses to make the situation messier by suing for wrongful termination? That even though he offers no apology, he admits to second thoughts? "If I had it to do over, after halftime I would have asked the other coach if he wanted to end the game," Grimes says. "If he wanted to keep going, I probably would have suggested we shut off the scoreboard."
That is not what you expected. Nor is it what Mark Ling, a dermatologist from Atlanta, expected when he wrote an angry e-mail to Covenant urging the school to fire Grimes. Ling, the father of a son with learning and visual-motor impairment, was troubled by reports that Covenant had its 100-point victory against a school for students with similar issues. (Dallas Academy serves students with dyslexia and other learning problems, but its players were in no way physically impaired.)
Grimes, who was cc'd on the e-mail, called Ling, after which Ling e-mailed Covenant again. "It would have been easy for Mr. Grimes to simply trash my e-mail," Ling wrote. "Instead he had the courage to confront his accuser man-to-man. My assessment of him has shifted 180 degrees. This is a man of character, one who may not always do things perfectly, but one who takes responsibility for his actions."
What kind of man could preside over a 100--0 game? Maybe a better man than you thought.
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"I'm not heartless," says the coach whose girls' basketball team won 100--0. "I'm not someone who would ever go out and try to humiliate an opponent."
ILLUSTRATION BY KEITH WITMER