Cypress Bay football coach Mark Guandolo, caught on national television slapping the helmet of one of his players, has been suspended for two weeks by Broward schools despite an outpouring of support from the teen’s family and former players.
Early Monday, Guandolo and Cypress Bay officials met with the family of senior quarterback Lucas Tellefsen, the player whose helmet was slapped on the sideline of Sunday’s preseason game between Cypress Bay and American Heritage.
His father, Eric Tellefsen, told the Sun Sentinel the incident was blown out of proportion.
“We’re 110 percent fine with this. We don’t want anything to happen to Coach G. He means the world to the school and this football team and he wants nothing but the best for these kids,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance.”
A statement from Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said that Guandolo, 55, is suspended from his work as a physical education teacher for three days. He is also suspended from athletic activities for two weeks.
“I expect every staff member to adhere to the highest professional standards in every aspect of their interactions with our students,” Runcie wrote in the statement.
The two-week athletics suspension means that Cypress Bay will be without its coach when it opens the regular season at home Sept. 6 against Boyd Anderson. The Lightning have a bye this week.
“It’s disappointing and it’s not something I’m proud of,” an emotional Guandolo said. “I have great respect for the kid. I was trying to get him ready and fire him up. It was his first start ever and emotions were running high. He had people coming at him and there’s no easy way to get him ready for that.
“I was just trying to fire him up, but you can’t do it in today’s day and age.”
Late Monday evening, the school district released this statement from Guandolo.
“I want to take this opportunity to apologize for my actions on the sideline this past Sunday. My actions unfortunately took away from the spotlight of the incredible academic and athletic programs we have worked so hard to create at Cypress Bay High School. I accept full responsibility and any resulting discipline that administration deems appropriate for my sideline conduct," Guandolo said.
Eric Tellefsen said Lucas is the youngest of his three sons to play for Guandolo.
The father added that he was in the stands when the incident occurred and he didn’t see the slap until after Guandolo called him on Sunday night to explain what had happened.
After the conversation, Tellefsen said he looked for the video of the incident online. His reaction? The slap was a “non-issue.”
He added that cameras didn’t capture the hug Guandolo gave his son immediately after the slap, which came after a tough play during Cypress Bay’s 38-14 loss to Heritage.
“We love Coach G. He’s coached two of my older sons that are in college on football scholarships,” Tellefsen said. “There’d be a line wrapped around the corner if you called his players and wanted to know what he’s done for them.”
While the family said they were hopeful they and the team could move forward after the incident, the video sparked debate on social media about whether the contact was inappropriate or if it was part of a typical football game.
Several of Guandolo’s former players took to social media to defend the longtime coach who in June was named the recipient of the Orange Bowl’s Amateur Sports Leadership Award for his work with young athletes.
“Man coach G has nothing but love for his players…if Coach G didn’t coach me, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” tweeted former Cypress Bay linebacker Nico Marley, a freshman football player at Tulane.
Former Chaminade-Madonna linebacker Jordan Delegal tweeted, “Coach G is the best thing that’s ever happened to my life. A sideline helmet slap is nothing compared to the impact he’s had on my life.”
Even University of Miami football coach Al Golden weighed in, saying he hadn’t seen the incident personally, but that he hoped Guandolo’s “body of work” would be considered.
“In general, we just don’t cross that line,” Golden said. “I hope everyone considers all the great things he does when they look at that because I’m sure Mark’s intent wasn’t to embarrass the kid or demean the kid or hurt the kid.”
A veteran coach, Guandolo has been a fixture in the South Florida high school football community for nearly 30 years.
Last year, he earned national attention for becoming the first coach in Florida history to lead three different schools to the state championship game. The most recent came in December when Cypress Bay made its first appearance in the state championship. The team finished as the Class 8A state runner-up after a 53-50 loss to Apopka.
Guandolo, who led Chaminade-Madonna to titles in 2003 and 2005 is a physical education teacher at Cypress Bay and has been employed by the school district since July 2007.
“We talk to our players about facing adversity and now I have to do that,” Guandolo said. “I’ve got to face my kids today. It would be easy to walk away, but I can’t turn my back to my players. I have put a lot into them. It’s just tough.”
Staff writer Dave Hyde contributed to this report.
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