Chapter 20/

The Aftermath

Arguauer's Contract Dustup

More on Arguauer Almost Left Garfield after the National Championship

McMahon sided with Argauer in ‘37, noting that he had built up Garfield’s athletic coffers and was entitled to some recompense. He also wondered whether Bloomfield would ever agree to keep giving Garfield a $750 guarantee if Argauer wasn’t the coach.

“That would be something like hiring Kate Smith without the mountain,” McMahon said, adding that the Garfield BOE, “had to get smacked in the face with a brick before it came out of a day dream.”

So here was a similar situation in 1940. As with Lyndhurst, Argauer hadn’t signed a contract with the East Orange board. But unlike the 1937 matter, which was swiftly resolved, this one dragged on for a week as Argauer was besieged with pleas for him to stay, including a petition signed by GHS students. With so much civic outrage over letting him get away, Garfield officials read the political tea leaves and managed to come up with the cash – $3,500, the amount he was promised in Miami and just $300 under what East Orange was offering. Now Argauer started playing East Orange.

 

“Frankly I would prefer to remain at Garfield,” he said. “The (Garfield) officials have made their new offer so attractive that is almost impossible to refuse. I am distraught. I feel I am obligated to accept the East Orange contract and yet I know that I would be happier in Garfield. If I can be released at East Orange without any hard feelings, I will stay at Garfield.”

 

In the end, officials from both boards met to find a graceful way for Argauer to get out of his contract. Clifford Scott didn’t want a coach who wanted to be somewhere else.

 

“I am remaining at the behest of the football players, student body, parents and officials,” Argauer said finally. “I decided to seek other employment only because I was convinced that Garfield was unappreciative of my work. That was not so. I was surprised and delighted at the earnestness with which all sought to make me change my mind.

 

“I have fond memories and great hopes for the future. I am willing to take a financial loss in order to remain where I enjoy working,” he said. That was one way of putting it, even though his financial situation was indeed improving by $500.

 

Al Del Greco, writing in the Bergen Record, chided the powers that be in his old hometown for nearly losing its money-making coach:

 

The next time Argauer asks for a raise, those Garfield boys should act promptly and break into the nearest bank and settle the matter pronto.

 

Argauer has no sense of humor and he doesn’t believe in fooling. The Garfield Board of Education, a good fist full of Republicans and Democrats, must have learned by now that their coach isn’t a guy who can be pushed around. He’s no little political stooge, who can be kicked around by his inferiors.

 

McMahon took a different take. He noted that Argauer had finally run out of tricks:

Art Argauer must have examined every angle carefully before reaching his decision to remain at Garfield rather than accept the East Orange football appointment. He realizes then that his days of bidding for bigger jobs are over. He is in Garfield for the rest of his coaching days, probably.

 

The reason is obvious. He has sought and won two other posts and rejected them when Garfield met the competitor’s price. By now other schools must suspect he simply wants a larger club to hold over Garfield’s head. It is unlikely that any more appointments will come his way.

 

At the same time his position in Garfield is weakened. Knowing that Argauer will be snubbed by other schools, Garfield is able to laugh at his threats to quit.

 

That remained to be seen, of course.

Art Argauer returned to the business of coaching soon after the team returned from Miami and basked in the welcoming receptions. It was basketball season. Indeed, Argauer had missed two weeks of it. And, of course, it was anticlimactic. How could it not be?

 

The Boilermakers made the state tournament but lost its third round game to Orange. But Argauer proved as cagey a hoop coach as he was in football. Before the final regular season game against Irvington, he suspended four of his five starters – Bill Librera, Wally Tabaka, Ed Hintenberger and Joe Benigno – for playing on an outside team. McMahon cast a suspicious eye on the discipline because Henry Donn, coach of Newark’s Weequahic High, Garfield’s opening opponent in the state tournament, was there to scout the Irvington game. He saw nothing.

 

And so it was when it came to the coach’s contract negotiations. A month after the basketball season ended, in May, Argauer dropped a bombshell. He was leaving Garfield for Clifford Scott High School in East Orange.

 

According to the Bergen Record, city officials promised Argauer a raise – anywhere from $300 and $500 over his $3000 annual salary ($53,000 in today’s economy) – during those heady days in Miami. That same week, however, The Herald-News was reporting that the city had only $9,000 in reserve for all employees, including police and teachers. No checks would be issued until additional tax moneys could be collected.  The city was almost broke.

 

Nevertheless, the Garfield Teachers Association petitioned the Board of Education for salary increases, totaling $14,000. According to Virginia Hutchinson, the Association president, no increments had been received for 10 years and many tenured teachers were at still their starting salary of $1,150.

 

In January, right around the time the teachers were haggling with the Board, Art McMahon reported that Argauer had applied for a $1,000 raise “or else.” After all, Argauer’s football program was paying for more than itself by bringing $10,000 and $12,000 into the athletic association treasury while gaining nationwide fame for the city. McMahon noted that Argauer, who got a $300 raise after the Boilermakers won the state championship in 1938, was still well behind both Bloomfield’s Bill Foley, at $6,500 plus a share of the gate, and Passaic’s Ray Picket, at $3,850.

 

Argauer, who may indeed have leaked the information to McMahon, moved quickly to deny it all. “It must have been some other lad,” McMahon wrote cynically. But Argauer went on to say he was entitled to some recognition and that if a raise didn’t come his way, he was within his rights to apply for one.

 

“At the moment, though, I haven’t asked for one and already people are beginning to look at me with hardened eyes,” Argauer said. “They have the idea that I’m swell-headed about this football business.”

 

Argauer acknowledged that he had offers from other schools – “nice ones, too” – but he insisted that he’d rather remain in Garfield, even if he was getting some dirty looks in the hallways.

 

“A fellow teacher glared at me the other day as if I were one half Hitler and one half Stalin,” he complained.

 

In any event, with the budget already slashed, the Garfield BOE conveniently forgot to take up Argauer’s raise. At one point, Nicholas Kuzmack, the BOE’s vice president, confessed to McMahon that Argauer’s departure was almost imminent.

 

“I’m afraid we’re going to lose Coach Argauer,” he said forlornly. “We don’t want him to leave us, yet we are powerless to do anything. Our budget appropriations do not provide an increase for him or any other teacher.”

Argauer was mentioned as a possibility for the vacant job at Asbury Park but it was dismissed as a silly rumor. Still, with no raise forthcoming, McMahon asked the question, “What next?” The answer came soon enough. Bill “Clipper” Smith, the former Notre Dame captain, was released by Clifford Scott under student protest and took the Asbury Park job himself. Argauer must have seen his opportunity for leverage slipping away so he sent out a few feelers to the East Orange Board of Education, which both pleased and surprised him by immediately responding with an attractive offer worth $3,800, with $3,300 to teach physical education and health and $500 for coaching football and basketball.

The agreement also allowed Argauer to retain his summer job as Director of the Montclair Academy Summer School, a nice perk he had held for the previous eleven years. And while Argauer was giving up the tenure he had earned at Garfield, Paul Horowitz reported on a “gentleman’s agreement” that would grant him three additional years regardless of win-loss record even though state regulations forbid any contract longer than one year.

 

Getting around the tenure issue was the clincher, McMahon said, noting there was a difference in the situations of Argauer and Earl Weidner, the founder of the crack Garfield High band, who left for a more lucrative position in Paterson.

 

“His lot is more fortunate than Argauer’s. You can’t very well fire the instructor because the tuba player goes flat on “March On, Ye Gallant Warriors,’” McMahon quipped.

 

The East Orange Board of Education had no intention of firing Argauer. He was a prize worth the price. With George Shotwell at East Orange High, the city would soon claim the coaches of the Nos. 1 and 2-ranked football teams in the state. Shotwell had been lured away from his coaching job in Pennsylvania two years earlier with a $4,000 offer. Clifford Scott was the smaller school, hence Argauer’s slightly lower stipend.

 

“It was a mutual effort on the part of Mr. Argauer and East Orange,” one East Orange official told The Herald-News. “Mr. Argauer interested himself in the position at the suggestion of an East Orange friend and when we knew that he would consider a change, we did everything possible to bring him here.”

 

“He was picked from a fine field of men who sought the job. We feel that he is just the man to fit the situation here.”

 

You couldn’t blame Argauer, McMahon wrote.

 

“Like the boy who shouted wolf, Art Argauer couldn’t make himself believed when he threatened to quit Garfield,” he noted. “Year after year, he patiently explained that as much as he likes coaching, he is in the business to make money, an ambition shared by practically everyone in this troubled world.”

 

Argauer had his money, but it came with an emotional price tag.

 

“I am leaving Garfield with deep regret,” Argauer said. “I wanted to stay there but I must look out for myself. Opportunities in East Orange are greater than Garfield offers and I feel obligated to accept. I certainly enjoyed myself in Garfield and made many fine friends. Leaving them and the boys I worked with makes this change very sad.”

 

There was one small matter. Argauer hadn’t yet signed the contract. And there was some history to indicate the entire matter wasn’t closed. Argauer had pulled something similar prior to the 1937 season when he was appointed athletic director and football coach at Lyndhurst High School, a smaller Bergen County school. His $2,200 salary at the time had been cut by $200 as part of an across-the-board measure affecting any teacher earning over $1000 at cash-strapped Garfield. The Garfield Board of Education tabled his request for a raise so he sent his application to Lyndhurst, which had no problem touting the names of Argauer and a few other high-profile applicants.

Argauer wasn’t expecting such a swift decision but that’s what he got. The Lyndhurst board threw a $2,800 offer at him, $300 more than it originally intended. Garfield officials, however, having been alerted by Lyndhurst’s overzealous board, had moved quickly and promised to match any offer at the same time. The next day, Argauer announced he was staying in Garfield while Lyndhurst officials waved his approved application and unsigned contract in his face. They were irate.

 

“Lyndhurst has a legitimate complaint,” Argauer admitted. “I realize that in a way, I have abused the honor it extended to me but I want them to know that when I submitted my application, I did so in all sincerity.

 

“When I heard Tuesday night that I was to receive the appointment, I rushed down and tried to inform the board that Garfield wanted me to stay and that I could not go to Lyndhurst. I was too late, though, and I promised to think it over for a day. I have thought it over and I have decided. Garfield is my choice.”

 

Lucky for Garfield’s state championship hopes in ’38 and ’39.

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