Phil Shar first came to know Pat Risha in the mid-1970s.
Shar was coaching track at the old West Mifflin South High School; Risha guiding the track team at Clairton.
"We were friendly," Shar said. "He seemed OK."
Fast forward more than 30 years.
"A lot has changed," Shar said. "As you can imagine, I feel much differently about Pat Risha after seeing what he really is all about."
Risha is the superintendent of schools for the West Mifflin Area School District; Shar had been a highly successful girls' varsity basketball coach for the Titans the past 19 seasons. He has a 379-153 overall record including 198-42 in section play. He led the Titans to 11 section titles, the most recent four in consecutive seasons. He posted 18 winning seasons and his teams qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in 18 of his 19 seasons. Included in that run have been five WPIAL championship game appearances, winning the Class AAA title in 2001.
Shar was summoned to a meeting last week and told by athletic director Scott Stephenson and high school principal Dr. Mark Hoover that his position was being opened. Shar said Stephenson and Hoover told him it was Risha's decision -- without a school board vote -- to open the job.
Shar has been consulting with attorneys to examine the legality of the firing.
Risha did not respond to numerous requests from the Post-Gazette for comment and Stephenson did not return a message. Hoover said Shar's situation was a "personnel matter" and he couldn't comment further.
Shar, however, had plenty to say and he went directly at a claim that Risha is "an absentee superintendent."
"I am confident when I say this: Pat Risha seldom comes to work in West Mifflin and when he works, he works from his home in Belle Vernon and he knows that I know this," Shar said.
"I just wonder how the people of West Mifflin feel about the fact that they have a superintendent who seldom comes into the office? They pay him a lot of taxpayer money."
Shar contends he is West Mifflin through-and-through, and his resume would seem to bolster that assertion.
He graduated from West Mifflin South High School in 1964 and began teaching at the old Lebanon Junior High School in 1968. From there, Shar moved on to West Mifflin South to teach trigonometry and advanced mathematics in the early 1970s, shifted to West Mifflin Area High in the school consolidation before the 1984-85 school year and then retired in 2003.
He still lives in the school district.
Shar said he is steeped in West Mifflin's traditions and has a deep sense of pride in the school and community. He said he often attends school board meetings and has done so "for a long time, long before Risha was the superintendent."
At those meetings, Shar maintained he sometimes expresses his opinions about certain topics in the public forum and after Risha became superintendent in Sept. 2006, as Shar says, "it was like he just wanted to shut me up because I challenged him."
Over the past few years at such meetings, Shar said he and Risha have been on opposite sides of issues including the site of a new middle school and whether to raise taxes in the district.
Therein, Shar contends, is the reason Risha wants him out.
"He wants me silenced," Shar said. "He wants everyone to agree with him."
In terms of running his basketball program, Shar contends he has done it masterfully, and not just in terms of wins and losses. In 19 seasons he says he has been assessed technical fouls just twice, the most recent in 1992, and he has never cursed in front of his players. Also, in evaluations done by Stephenson after the past two seasons, Shar said he received grades of 99.5 percent and 96.5 percent.
"There is a certain expectation I have of myself," Shar said. "And there is an expectation I have of every player who is a Lady Titan, just ask them."
Tanisha Wright, the best player in West Mifflin girls' basketball history, was contacted earlier this week. Wright, a 2001 West Mifflin graduate, plays for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA.
"Mr. Shar does everything the right way, he is the total package and he is not just concerned about people as players, but how they are as people," said Wright.
"When I was there, he was always checking on your grades and making sure you succeeded in school, that was first in his mind. To have someone trying to run him out is crazy, just crazy. What Mr. Shar has done for so many Lady Titans players is amazing. I can attest to what he's done for me, how he demanded so much from me as a student and an athlete and how he has impacted my life."
Shar said he doesn't plan to give up his coaching job quietly.
"I know I am reapplying for the job, that is all that is certain right now," Shar said. "There is a school board meeting on June 25. I am going to be there. And I hope the whole community is there."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.