News 3 Exclusive: East Alabama football coach offers resignation over lack of COVID testing for high school players, coaches

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SEALE, Ala. (WRBL) – Russell County Head Football Coach Mark Rose has been one of the most vocal high school football coaches in Alabama about playing a season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

WRBL News 3 has learned that Rose submitted his resignation as the Warriors’ head coach to principal Tonya Keene on Thursday afternoon, hours before the team was scheduled to play a home game against Sidney Lanier.

Rose has been adamant that the Alabama High School Athletic Association should not be playing football without COVID-19 testing protocols.  He has now taken a COVID stand — that will likely cost him his job. 

“You are well aware of my position that the AHSAA should have implemented procedures requiring testing of players,” Rose’s resignation letter read. “By leading the football players and staff onto the field knowing that neither team has been tested, I would be forced to condone a policy that I have repeatedly opposed.”

Rose has insisted that this is not about him or his personal safety.

“As I have informed you, this is not about me, but it is about my concern for the family members, friends, communities, and the players in the state of Alabama,” Rose said.

This drama has been playing out at Russell County for weeks – and like so many things in 2020, it’s COVID related. 

In an interview last month with NPR, the veteran coach called the decision to play high school football in Alabama without proper COVID testing in place “child exploitation.” 

Russell County principal Tonya Keene has not returned multiple phone calls to confirm Rose’s job status. He is also the athletic director. He did not resign from that position. 

The 54-year-old Rose has played football since he was 7 year old. He was a four-year letterman for Auburn University, playing in the late 1980s for legendary coach Pat Dye.

The last three decades, he has been a high school coach in Alabama, the past 23 as a head coach in Tallassee, North Jackson, Smiths Station and now Russell County.

“I have never, in my 30-year career as a football coach, refused to take the field,” the statement from Rose read. “But, tonight, I have no choice. It is my responsibility as a coach to protect my players and all players in the state.”

He was at practice on Wednesday.

The Warriors have forfeited five games due to multiple players testing positive for the coronavirus. An assistant coach was also hospitalized with the virus. 

Russell County played the last two weeks, but Rose was not on the sideline. He won’t say why, but he was only with the team for two practices this week. 

Rose declined comment at this time, saying the letter speaks for itself.

 AHSAA spokesman Ron Ingram said on Wednesday that a testing protocol for Alabama high schools was not practical. And it could not be done in the way it is being done in pro and college football.

“It is a little different when you are talking about 30 NFL teams making millions of dollars, and major college that are making millions of dollars that can do all kinds of testing, and we have 416 high schools. Each school system,” Ingram said. “Each school system does it’s own testing.”

Rose has earned respect in his multiple coaching stops.

“In my 35 years of coaching, Mark Rose is the hardest-nosed football coach I’ve ever worked with,” one his former colleagues said. “Not only that, there might be some that work as hard, but no one works harder than Coach Rose. He is a throwback of sorts, and a reflection of what Coach Dye instilled in him when he was in college.”

Read the full letter from Rose below:

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