Dave Spinella said he is sorry. He is not sorry for what he said; he is sorry for who he said it to.
Riverhead High School’s girls basketball coach issued a mea culpa the day after Christmas. In what amounts to a public apology to his players and their parents, Spinella said he was wrong to state in a postgame interview that his players lacked heart.
After the Blue Waves dropped a 54-50 non-league loss to Eastport/South Manor on Monday, Spinella held a postgame meeting with his players. Immediately after that meeting, an agitated Spinella told a reporter for The Riverhead News-Review: “We have no energy, no heart. We have no fire. We don’t have passion.”
While saying he still stands by those statements, Spinella told the newspaper on Friday that he was wrong to make them fodder for public consumption outside the locker room. He said he should have given himself more time for a more thoughtful response to a reporter’s questions.
“This is no way near who I am or a reflection of what I stand for,” he said, adding: “My kids work really hard. They show up when I ask them to, they do what I ask them to do and they deserve better than that. I’m not a man of pride or ego. I have no problem admitting I made a mistake.”
“I love these kids to death,” he continued. “I love everything that I do. It’s my job to protect and build these kids. I kind of broke them down in a public forum, which is a little out of character for me and I apologize to those who I offended.”
At the same time, Spinella said it was important for him to be truthful to his players.
“Our ability level is incredible,” he said. “I hold my kids to high standards. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I was patting them on the back and telling them it’s O.K. and it’s not.”
The Blue Waves are 3-3, 2-0 in Suffolk County League III. Their next game will be Jan. 6 at North Babylon.
The original story about Spinella’s remarks drew a dozen comments on The Riverhead News-Review’s website, almost all of them critical of the coach. Asked if he received much feedback since the story ran, Spinella said he spoke with a parent of one of his players.
“She was angry, as well she should have been,” he said, adding, “She got me thinking, too.”
Spinella, 36, is in his 12th year as Riverhead’s varsity coach and his 14th year in the program.
Spinella said the remarks he made to the reporter were essentially what he told his players during the postgame meeting. In the heat of the moment, he extended them to the interview.
“I kind of betrayed my kids,” he said. “It was just a poor reaction. They just needed to hear it. No one else needed to hear it.”
“I tell these kids all the time they have to own their actions,” he added. “I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t own mine. That’s what I’m doing. Sometimes when you’re passionate about something, your heart overrules your head.”