Grand Forks Red River head boys hockey coach Bill Chase was placed on indefinite administrative leave last week due to "conduct unbecoming and unfitting of a high school coach, including a history (of) derogatory, demeaning, and intimidating language," according to documents obtained by the Herald through an open records request.
The formal notice was sent to Chase on Feb. 12 from Grand Forks Assistant Superintendent Catherine Gillach and District Athletic Director Mark Rerick.
In an interview with the Herald on Tuesday, Rerick said he couldn't elaborate on the nature of the language in question.
Chase's language "contradicts district expectations surrounding ethical standards, values and practices for coaches and educators," the formal letter said.
During the administrative leave, the formal notice said "administration will investigate allegations."
Chase declined an interview with the Herald but released a statement about his leave.
"Since being on administrative leave, I have been informed the school district is conducting an investigation of a complaint about me," Chase said. "It would not be appropriate for me to make any comments until that investigation has been completed."
Rerick said he has begun the investigative process, which he said will be conducted by himself and a group from "the administrative cabinet."
Although the process has started, Rerick said the interviews with parents and players, both current and former, will be sensitive to the timing of this week's state tournament, which begins Thursday in Fargo.
The investigation doesn't have a set timeline.
"In fairness to everyone, including coach Chase, it's important to do due diligence," Rerick said. "There are two sides. You have a group of kids, and ultimately there's a responsibility of advocacy to them. At the same time, you have a coach who has done a nice job for the school. We don't want to put an end time because we have to make sure we're flipping as many stones as necessary."
Rerick also defended the timing of the decision, which came the day of Red River's East Region tournament opener.
"When you learn information that causes concern, how comfortable are you as an administrator waiting to act on that?" Rerick said. "The decisions we make shouldn't be about the competitive ability of a team. For me, I'm going to move forward in a manner I think is right whether that's the morning of East Region or the state championship or the middle of July."
In Chase's most recent coaching evaluation, from the 2017-18 season, Rerick marked satisfactory grades on 20 of the 24 categories provided.
He received four marks of "needs improvement," including under the category of "develops respect by example in appearance, behavior, language and conduct during contests and practices."
The evaluation also offered a few final comments: "We need to continue defining the purpose of your program beyond winning hockey games," Rerick wrote. "Slowly improving the culture of (Red River) hockey will be a large piece of being successful in the future. I appreciate your dedication to our athletes and our program."
During his coaching leave, Chase has remained in his role as a counselor at South Middle School, where he received positive marks in his most recent evaluation from South Principal Nancy Dutot.
"As South's counselor for the past 25 years, you have continued to work extremely effectively with students, staff and parents," Dutot wrote. "You are a hard-working and dedicated professional. With your unique and highly effective style, you have conscientiously become a trusting and professional presence within the building."
Chase was informed of the decision by school administration the morning of Feb. 12. The players were told in a meeting at Red River High School the same day.
Chase is in his 10th season as head coach at Red River. The Roughriders won state championships in 2011, 2013 and 2016 under Chase. The 2016 team was just the second in state history to go undefeated, finishing 27-0.
Chase was named North Dakota Coach of the Year in 2013 and the All-USA boys hockey national Coach of the Year by USA Today in 2016.