Claiming ‘Toxic’ Environment, Anderson Resigns as Columbia Falls Basketball Coach

First-year head coach claims disdainful comment was made about his wife; school officials say they were unaware of incident

By Dillon Tabish
Columbia Falls basketball practice on Dec. 10, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

John Anderson has resigned as head coach of the Columbia Falls High School boys basketball team, claiming a “toxic environment” surrounded the program this season and that a school official made a disdainful comment about his wife.

Anderson is stepping down after one season. He submitted his letter of resignation on Thursday. Under Anderson, the Wildcats finished 4-17 overall and failed to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2008. The season concluded at last weekend’s Western A divisional tournament with a 72-52 loss to rival Whitefish.

Anderson, a Whitefish attorney, claims he and his players overheard negative comments throughout winter as the Wildcats suffered their first losing season in 20 years.

“I started hearing things shortly after I started the job. There was nothing that I heard directly. There were things that have gotten back to me through players,” Anderson said. “I thought a lot of it would go away. I know a lot of folks in Columbia Falls and it seemed uncharacteristic. There are a lot of good people over there and I think it’s just unfortunate that when times get tough, this sort of thing leaks out of the bottom instead of from the top, where there is high character.”

According to Anderson, the negativity reached a new level after a home game early in the season. Anderson says he was walking out of the boys locker room when he overheard a conversation involving a member of the school’s activities department.

The school official said, “Maybe (Anderson’s) wife’s cancer would come back and (Anderson would) have a reason to resign,” according to Anderson.

Anderson’s wife is a cancer survivor who has recovered from treatment.

Anderson says he immediately returned to his office in the locker room after overhearing the remark. He declined to name the individual who he claims made the comment.

“It stopped me in my tracks,” Anderson said. “I really couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I don’t suspect anyone meant it, but I think it was very representative of that toxic environment.”

Columbia Falls High School Principal Scott Gaiser and Activities Director Troy Bowman said they were both unaware of the allegations made by Anderson. They both said they were unaware of any concerns Anderson might have had about negativity surrounding the program.

“We were not aware of any of those concerns on John’s part,” Gaiser said.

The school did not receive any reports or complaints about negative behavior toward the program or disdainful comments made during the season, according to the school officials.

“Nothing was brought to our attention,” Bowman said.

Anderson’s resignation letter did not mention any incidents involving remarks made about his wife, Bowman said.

The Columbia Falls school board will vote to finalize Anderson’s resignation on Monday night.

Anderson said he enjoyed working with the team. He said he originally had plans to return for another season before making the final decision to resign after the divisional tournament.

“I just wasn’t going to put my family through that sort of thing,” he said.

“We’re turning the page and moving on. There’s just no reason to dwell on it. Really there was no path to success in that sort of environment.”

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