Perhaps the only person tough enough to tackle the job of equipment manager in the Boston Public Schools athletic department would be someone with pro and college football experience.
About a month after the Boston Globe reported that the athletic department was being investigated for allegedly misspending funds related to the purchase of equipment and supplies, BPS hired John Hillebrand to take over the department.
Hillebrand, who started Monday, spent the last year as head equipment manager of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars; that was after working as an assistant equipment manager with the Patriots for 18 years. He also was Boston College’s assistant equipment manager from 1991-93 as well as equipment manager at Edinboro University in 1990.
“I have a lot of experience,” Hillebrand said during Wednesday’s fall coaches meeting at the Burke High School auditorium. “I know what I’m doing. You just have to give me some time to do it.”
Hillebrand, 46, replaces William Fitzgerald, who resigned shortly after the investigations began in the spring. It is unclear whether Fitzgerald’s resignation was linked to the investigations.
The exact nature of the investigations — which are being conducted by the Boston Police, the Massachusetts Inspector General’s Office, and the Boston Finance Commission — is unclear; a Globe public records request for a copy of an audit was denied on the grounds that investigations are ongoing.
After news of the investigation broke, several BPS coaches said they believed that issues surrounding the ordering of equipment resulted from the fact that Fitzgerald was one person processing $3.1 million in orders for 19 high schools. They also said his ordering and purchasing procedure was slow and antiquated, and that he was the only person who knew how it worked.
During an interview after Wednesday’s meeting, Hillebrand said he was in a manpower situation similar to his one at BC.
“It’s extremely similar, oh yeah,” he said. “There were two other people [at BC] and actually one person left early, a year early. It was me for three months by myself at Boston College.
“I’m going to just do my job and go from there.”
Hillebrand will have the support of the Boston Scholar Athletes program, a nonprofit organization created about four years ago to support BPS athletics.
In fact, the BSA will provide all of the equipment that was requested over the summer by coaches for this fall, aside from uniforms. BSA athletic director Brad Schoonmaker said they were glad to help.
“But like I said, we’re probably more excited to start working with John to start creating some efficient systems so coaches can be prepared and have what they need to start the season,” Schoonmaker said before Wednesday’s coaches meeting.
“One thing we both know, both the BPS and the BSA, is that there is going to be some disruption in the fall, and our goal is to minimize that disruption. Moving forward, we just want to work really collaboratively with John to try to create some efficient systems so everything runs more smoothly.”
Schoonmaker said that while Hillebrand will still be one equipment manager servicing 19 high schools, his experience will help.
“Obviously, his resume speaks for itself, coming from the Patriots, coming from the Jaguars, he definitely knows his stuff,” said Schoonmaker. “So we’re excited to kind of learn from him and help him have an easier transition than he maybe would without us.
"Yes, the math is still the same but hopefully he utilizes the BSA and we can together create something that’s pretty good.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, BPS athletic director Ken Still, who will retire in October, said there will be an adjustment period, as with anything that is new.
“You have to get adjusted your own way, especially in the job that he has, as to how he stacks his uniforms, as how he delivers it,” Still said. “He’ll have his own setup and the way he has it, it seems like it will be good.”
Hillebrand told coaches that he will be strict about deadlines for requesting equipment and that he will periodically come to the schools to check inventory.
“If it’s gone, if a kid took it, if the dog ate it, if I happen to come over for a spot check, I’m going to be like, 'Where is it?' ” Hillebrand said during the meeting.
BPS assistant athletic director Wallace Johnson said the school district is also working on a new policy for putting equipment orders out to bid.
“Things are changing,” he said. “We will no longer be able to call up a vendor and say, ‘Send me this or that or the other,' without a proper [purchase order],” Johnson said during the meeting. “So the dates that he gives, you better follow them, because if you don’t have your information in to him by that time, you will not get the equipment that you need.”
O’Bryant boys’ soccer coach Ian Doreian liked what Hillebrand had to say.
“Ultimately, if the bidding process is done in a more streamlined fashion, and coaches are held accountable for the amount of supplies they have, and they are turning their requisite forms in on time, then that will make things easier,” said Doreian.
Even Hillenbrand's response to how the process would be streamlined was streamlined.
Asked how long it would take him to streamline the bidding process, Hillenbrand said, “When it does.” And when asked how long it would take for him to get settled into his new job, Hillebrand said, “When I get settled.”
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.