CANTON, Texas — A high school football coach who was shot and critically wounded — allegedly by the father of one of his players — had turned the team around in recent years, but his decisions ruffled some players and parents.
Cody Willis, a junior who played for Canton High School’s football team last year, said many people were jealous and critical when newly hired coach Gary Joe Kinne decided to name his son, freshman G.J. Kinne, starting quarterback of the team.
“We thought, ‘The head coach coming in, he’s going to obviously put his son in.’ I thought it was bigheaded, but we realized that G.J. is a really good player,” he said.
Canton started playing better, too. In 2002, the year before Kinne’s arrival, Canton finished 3-7. His first season, the team improved to 8-4, including Canton’s first playoff win since 1964. In 2004, Canton finished 8-2 and narrowly missed the playoffs.
The success renewed interest in the team for many in this town of 3,500 about 60 miles east of Dallas. The earlier complaints were chalked up largely to sour grapes, or dismissed as a natural part of small-town football politics.
Suspect had run-ins with coaches
However, Jeffrey Doyle Robertson seemed to hold a grudge against the team’s coaches; a relative said he believed the coaches were treating his son unfairly. He stomped onto the field last season when his son didn’t play in a freshman game and pushed an assistant coach at a preseason picnic last year, coaches said.
School officials banned him from campus sporting events, and coaches said they thought the issue was resolved — until the shooting.
Authorities allege Robertson, 45, charged into the high school field house Thursday morning and shot Kinne in the chest with an automatic handgun. The coach remained in critical condition in a Tyler hospital Saturday. He was expected to undergo surgeries to repair his damaged liver and remove the bullet lodged in his back.
After the shooting, Robertson allegedly fled the scene and slashed his wrists in a wooded area outside of town. He was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, punishable by two to 20 years in prison. He remained jailed on $1 million bond Saturday.
Police have said they don’t believe any one incident triggered the shooting. Robertson had a long reputation of being a hothead and starting fights, but he’d been quiet in recent months, police chief Mike Echols said.
But Rhonda Miller, a cousin of Robertson’s wife, said Friday that Robertson is a good family man driven to violence by an athletic department and school administration that wouldn’t act on his concerns.
Miller would not give specifics on his beef with coaches except to say that he believed his son was being treated unfairly.
'We were afraid of the guy'
Assistant football coach Howard Bell said Friday that football coaches at Canton High School became wary of Robertson after he threatened students he believed were picking on his son and pushed an assistant coach at a picnic when the coach tried to intervene.
“We already had said we were afraid of the guy. We saw how he had acted around the kids,” Bell said.
Bell said he didn’t think Robertson had a particular problem with the head coach.
“Obviously, he loved his son,” Bell said. “He was just overprotective. Everybody wants their kid to be a player, a star, but unfortunately, that just isn’t the way it is.”
Some have said it may not have helped matters that Kinne’s son was a talented athlete who had become a star quarterback.
Teammate Joe Davis, 18, said he remembers G.J. Kinne practicing with the varsity baseball team in nearby Mesquite as an eighth-grader.
“Everyone loved his pitching,” Davis said. “Some people are just out there to showboat. He went out there and did what he did to help out the team.”
However, Davis said he never noticed the elder Kinne showing favoritism to his son or anybody else on the football team. Willis said the elder Kinne taught Canton players how to be a team and replaced cockiness with cooperation.
“When Coach Kinne came, it all reversed,” he said. “He got rid of everybody’s attitudes. He’s a really good coach.”
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