After guiding the Elma High School boys basketball team to its first district title game appearance in 20 years, head coach Jeff Niemi will not be returning to coach the program he has led for the past four seasons.
The Elma School District decided not to renew the contract of Niemi, who stated he was surprised after being informed of the decision on Friday, June 11.
”I was obviously not really expecting this because of the season we had,” said Niemi, who this past season coached the Eagles to their first winning record since 2013-14 and first appearance into the 1A District 4 Championship game since 2001.
“I was evaluated Thursday (June 10) and got a good evaluation from my athletic director (Jim Hill). … Friday (June 11), the superintendent (Kevin Acuff) called me back and told me I wasn’t going to be back next year.”
According to Niemi, he was provided with the option of either resigning or being let go. He chose the latter.
“It was a surprise and I was told I could resign and I didn’t feel comfortable resigning because I didn’t want to quit,” he said. “I signed the letter and said ‘OK, I guess I’m not the coach anymore.’”
The news came as a shock to many in the Elma basketball community, considering the program appeared to be on a successful direction under Niemi. After taking over a program that had just two winning seasons since 2005-06, Niemi guided Elma to a 10-win season in 2018-19 after just one win the prior year and a winning season and district-semifinal victory in 2021.
The Eagles were also one of the few teams on the Harbor that navigated COVID-19 pitfalls successfully, avoiding any infections or game cancellations that affected other teams in the area. Hence, they were one of the few teams to enter the 1A District 4 Tournament healthy and without any COVID forfeits in the short, one-month season.
Elma held its boys basketball banquet on Monday, June 14, where Niemi shared the surprising news to a stunned audience.
“We had the banquet and I had to tell all the boys and that was definitely a tough thing to do,” he said. “Hugging kids that you love and having them cry in your arms is a hard thing, but we got through it and I’m moving on and seeing where I wind up next.”
As to specific reasons as to why he may have been removed, Niemi said district officials “gave a couple of reasons why, but the main thing was what they always say, that they were going in a different direction.”
Niemi will also no longer be coaching the middle school football team, where he had been the head coach for the past eight years, but was retained as a physical education teacher at Elma Elementary School.
Acuff declined to answer questions from The Daily World regarding the matter and offered the following statement on the issue:
“The Elma School District made the decision last week, not to renew the contract of Head Boys Basketball Coach Jeff Niemi. The District felt it was in the best interest of our students and program to move forward under new leadership. We posted an opening to find a replacement today and it will be open through next Friday, June 25. We look forward to seeing our teams take the court next year as we anticipate having the sports seasons return to their typical place on the calendar.”
Niemi doesn’t plan on giving up coaching high school basketball anytime soon and is already looking ahead to what opportunities are on the horizon.
“I love coaching and working with kids …It ’s just a matter of time,” he said, thanking former assistant coaches Carson Seaberg, Curtis Eccles, Cory Ellis and middle school head coach Jack Monroe for their support and hard work. “I don’t know if it will be next season or the following, but yes I’ll be back out there.”