By MARC RAIMONDI
For the second time in three years, Mike Eisenberg started a girls’ basketball season on the sidelines only to be unceremoniously booted a few weeks later.
The much-maligned yet extremely successful former Francis Lewis coach went through the preseason, a few scrimmages and a league game as an assistant under Bayside’s Steve Piorkowski. But last month, school Principal Michael Athy ruled that Eisenberg could no longer coach.
Eisenberg was assigned to Bayside as an ATR — absentee teacher reserve, or everyday sub — in September and is teaching five health classes at the school after spending more than a year in a city Department of Education reassignment center. He was sent to the rubber room in December 2008, a few weeks into the season, after a verbal altercation with one of the school’s star soccer players in his gym class, and was later investigated over accusations that he stole fund-raising money.
Ultimately, the investigation found only that Eisenberg “failed to maintain accurate records” and “failed to turn in $600.00 in proceeds from the candy sale in a timely fashion,” according to SCI documents. His case with the DOE was settled last May and he was free to begin teaching as an ATR.
In September, Piorkowski approached Eisenberg about helping out with the girls’ basketball team, which plays in Class A, the middle tier of the PSAL’s three-tier system. The two have been friendly for more than a decade, dating back to when they coached against each other in the same division. Eisenberg took Francis Lewis to the PSAL city championship game at Madison Square Garden six times.
“I looked at him as a mentor, as someone who knows a hell of a lot more about basketball than I do,” said Piorkowski, one of the top softball coaches in the city. “I wanted to tap into that resource and put it into use for this school. It was as simple as that.”
Eisenberg’s hire was cleared by Bayside Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Joe Capuana and Piorkowski and Eisenberg worked out arrangements, financial and otherwise. Piorkowski handled the team’s defense and Eisenberg the offense. But in mid-December, about three weeks into the season, Athy told Capuana that Eisenberg could no longer coach, sources said.
“The principal subsequently learned that Mr. Eisenberg had been disciplined at his previous school for using inappropriate language with a student and failing to maintain accurate records for proceeds collected from a candy sale held by the girls’ basketball team,” DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said. “The principal sat down with the athletic director and Mr. Eisenberg and it was agreed he would step down as the backup coach. Mr. Eisenberg remains a physical education teacher at the school.”
Eisenberg said there was no agreement — Athy simply said he could not coach. He also said he did not meet with Athy and Capuana together, but had a brief meeting with Athy after the fact.
“I like to coach,” Eisenberg said. “I think I’m good at it, and if you can help kids along the way it’s the perfect job to have. If they don’t want me to coach anymore, I’d be more than happy to see my daughter every day after school like I’ve done for the last two years.”
In 15 years coaching at Lewis, Eisenberg, 53, had 15 of his players receive a full ride to college, whether it was on athletic scholarship, academic or both. Every one of his players went on to some form of college except one who enlisted in the military.
Eisenberg, a Brooklyn native and Fresh Meadows resident, worked as a teacher at Lewis for 23 years. He’s been a men’s college basketball assistant coach at Queens College, Pace, Brooklyn College and a boys’ assistant at Lincoln High School. He also was the head men’s coach at City Tech.
Piorkowski said he was aware of Eisenberg’s stint in the rubber room, but had no qualms about bringing him aboard. He was disappointed about the outcome.
“We live in a system where the principal can make a decision without any due process,” Piorkowski said. “Maybe the principal will change his mind. Maybe this is a test. We’re trying to figure this out. We don’t know.”
Bayside star senior guard Cheska Mauban said she has attempted to meet with Athy multiple times to discuss Eisenberg, but has been turned away.
“I don’t know the background story,” Mauban said. “I don’t know what’s going on. All I know is I’m on this Bayside varsity basketball team and I want to win a championship and I know this guy has the reputation for running a good basketball program. So all I’m thinking is, what did the guy do wrong? I don’t care about that nonsense. We just want to win games.”