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CANTON, Ohio – Ron Johnson, the head football coach of the Canton McKinley football team, has been fired after four seasons on the sidelines.

The firing has led to a fierce debate in the Hall of Fame city, where it appears residents are split over the controversial decision.

Several Bulldog players are angry that Johnson was canned. Chris Mills, a senior, started an online petition in an effort to get Johnson reinstated. Mills said more than 100 people have signed it.

“The whole team wants him. We’re kind of doing this for the younger guys because they want him back. We know what he’s done for us in four years and we want him here,” Mills said.

“He did nothing wrong. He won games, got us to the playoffs (and) beat Massillon. What else? That’s what you ask for at McKinley, and we did well in the classroom,” senior Brook Clark said.

The board voted three to two to fire Johnson. Some of the reasons for not renewing his contract for the 2012-2013 season were expressed during an executive session, which is not open to the public.

“I can’t discuss those (the reasons) at this time.  I see no reason to terminate him because of what facts were brought up in that executive session,” school board member Ryan Brahler said.

On message boards, some people in the Canton community have raised the issue of race in Johnson’s termination. Brahler, who is white, and board president Rich Milligan, who is also white, voted to keep Johnson.

The three members who voted to fire the coach are African-American: Nadine McIlwain, Ida Ross-Freeman and Lisa Gissendaner. All three women declined to talk with NewsChannel5 on Monday.

However, several people in the community believe Johnson was failing at communicating with the community and was not reaching out to parents.

“If you only get half the community rallying around the program, then it’s not where it should be or where it has been in the past,” said Michael Brown, who is the director of a Canton community center.

Johnson, who has led to Bulldogs to playoffs four straight years and has beaten arch rival Massillon three times in five games, met his with attorney on Monday and was reluctant to say much about his controversial firing.

“I’m very appreciative of the support. I love this place and I don’t want to let the kids down,” Johnson said.

The next Canton School Board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13. The decision to fire the coach in a city where football reigns supreme is expected to be a hot topic.

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Article Courtesy of WEWS NewsChannel 5