New Aspen coach, players moving on |

New Aspen coach, players moving on

Nate PetersonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen High School’s new varsity head football coach said Tuesday that he wants to focus on the future, not the chain of events leading to his hiring.Mike Sirko – the husband of Superintendent Diana Sirko – met with his new team for the first time Tuesday, four days after being named coach, following a nationwide search that attracted 16 candidates.Sirko replaces Travis Benson, who resigned Dec. 11 after two seasons as head coach and five seasons as an assistant coach. Benson resigned roughly two weeks after a meeting with the superintendent, Principal Charlie Anastas and Athletic Director Carol Sams, at which they asked him to consider a subordinate role under Sirko.”The bottom line is all anybody ever wanted was the best for you,” Mike Sirko told about 25 Skiers players Tuesday at a meeting during the school’s lunch hour. “Don’t even believe half of what’s printed in the papers … We are going to step ahead now and move forward with this.”Sirko arrives from 5A Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, the most recent stop along a 31-year head coaching career at six different schools – including two stints at Colorado Springs’ Rampart, where he won a 4A state title.Sirko said he planned to retire from coaching this fall after Doherty lost in the first round of the 5A playoffs, finishing 6-5. A conversation with his wife after the season spawned the idea of the proposed mentorship, Sirko said.”Diana and I talked about an opportunity of maybe still helping out somewhere, and I just thought it would be maybe a great opportunity of helping somewhere,” Sirko said. “I think what people always forgot was that the person wasn’t asked to resign, he was just asked for some help with some mentorship stuff. I think that’s the real touchy part, because then after he resigned, then it hit the sky. Everybody got upset about it.” Benson said in previous interviews with The Aspen Times that the meeting with school administrators caught him off guard, and he felt pressured when administrators asked him if he would consider a subordinate role under the superintindent’s husband. Before the meeting, he said only one parent had ever approached him personally with concerns about his coaching.Benson’s decision to resign sparked a stream of letters in both local papers, the majority of which voiced support for him while questioning the ethics of the superintendent, Sams and Anastas. Upset teachers also asked for a meeting with school administrators and threatened to boycott the district holiday party, while Skiers players posted signs throughout the school that read “Benson or Bust.” Sirko said he chose not to read most of what the local papers had printed.”Again, I’m on the outside,” he said. “I didn’t really do a lot of reading, and I didn’t really read a lot of the articles because I just wanted to stay out of it.”He was then asked, if he hadn’t read the articles, why he told his new players “not to believe half of what was written.””I’ve been in coaching for 30 years, and sometimes I’ve been misquoted,” he said. “Let’s just put it this way – you spend all this time doing things, you’ve got to be careful about what you say. The bottom line is what you mean is different than what came out. Sometimes it does come out that way. It comes out you’re being misquoted, and I’m sorry, that does occur. I’m not saying that’s you, but I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve seen it happen.”When asked how he would react if a school administrator ever asked him to take a mentoring role under another coach, Mike Sirko said his response would depend on the circumstances.”I think early on I might have been OK with it, but I don’t think right now I probably would,” he said. “I still don’t know very many people who are foolish enough with 31 years under their belt who continue to coach. A lot of us old boys are long gone. I think when I was younger, sure it might have been a possibility.”Robert Codd, a sophomore football player, said a number of Aspen players are still upset about the circumstances that led to Benson’s resignation but are ready to move on.”When I met [coach Sirko], my whole perspective changed,” he said. “When we first heard that he was going to get the job, I wasn’t completely thrilled. I thought Benson was doing a great job, and now meeting him, my perspective completely changed. I think it’s taking a step in the right direction.”Tim Beirne, a freshman football player was one of those who posted “Benson or Bust” signs around the school, concurred.”It’s kind of hard having the coach resign after two years,” he said. “I think a lot of people took it pretty well. I just hope no one has any hard feelings toward the new coach.””I think everyone now has just accepted the fact that [Benson] is gone and we’ve got a new coach,” Codd added. “We were mostly just upset about how everything went down and how everything was handled with Benson being let go or forced to resign. Basically, we thought that maybe if we pitched a big enough fit we’d somehow get Benson back, but that didn’t happen. [The signs] were basically just to show Benson that we were still behind him 100 percent, and we didn’t understand why he was being let go.” Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is