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Out of six people who applied for the Greenbrier East High School boys basketball coaching job in July, Gov. Jim Justice was the “obvious choice,” Greenbrier East Principal Ben Routson said in a statement Tuesday.

Routson’s statement came six days after the Greenbrier County Board of Education voted to delay its consideration of whether to approve Superintendent Jeff Bryant’s recommendation to hire Justice as the boys basketball coach at the school.

Routson gave the statement because of a “great deal of attention given to the head basketball coach position at Greenbrier East High School.”

All six people who applied were interviewed and asked the same questions dealing with coaching experience, basketball philosophy, and player and student development, Routson said.

“Upon completion of the interview process, it became obvious Coach James Justice was the clear choice to receive the recommendation of the interview team,” Routson said. “Coach Justice excelled in the interview process and was the only applicant with head coaching experience at the high school varsity level.”

The Board of Education spent about 90 minutes in executive session on Aug. 11 before returning to the regular meeting, where it tabled the motion to hire Justice.

The board meets for a special session Wednesday, but the board is not set to reconsider whether to hire Justice until its meeting on Aug. 23.

Two board members, Kay Smith and Hazel Reed, voted against hiring Justice for the same job in 2010, and board member Rick Parker said last week that he was a “no” vote on hiring Justice for the job.

Last week, Smith and Reed declined to comment on how they planned to vote on the coaching job.

Bimbo Coles resigned as Greenbrier East boys basketball coach in July.

Bryant contacted the Gazette-Mail Tuesday afternoon, saying Routson had prepared a statement in response to news media requests regarding Justice’s interest in the coaching position, as well as the application and hiring process.

Calls made last week to Routson and Bryant by the Gazette-Mail weren’t returned.

On Monday, the Gazette-Mail emailed Greenbrier County Schools officials seeking more information about how many people applied for the coaching job and whether anyone withdrew their applications.

The board entered its executive session on Aug. 11, right as it approached its personnel agenda.

The West Virginia Open Governmental Meetings Act states that government bodies “may” enter into executive session to discuss personnel matters and other topics.

The board approved all other personnel items on the agenda.

Bryant addressed concerns about his work as entertainment director at The Greenbrier resort, which Justice purchased in 2008.

Bryant said he has worked as a musician at The Greenbrier since before Justice bought the luxury resort, including when Bryant was marching band director, and later principal, at Greenbrier East.

“I enjoy the opportunity to do that,” Bryant said Tuesday. “I’m a professional musician, but it never interferes with what I do for the schools. The school system always comes first.”

According to Gazette-Mail records, Justice tallied 103 wins with the boys basketball team form 2010-2017 and 392 wins with the girls basketball team since 2010 for a total of 495 wins.

Routson noted in his statement that Greenbrier East’s boys basketball team beat Capital High School at Capital in 2012, when Capital was the No. 1 ranked AAA boys basketball team in the state.

“When considering the applicant pool, it is hard to ignore an applicant with almost 500 high school varsity wins at Greenbrier East High School, consistent postseason play and state tournament appearances and championship, including taking both the boys and girls basketball teams to the state tournament in the same year,” Routson said.

Justice indicated that his return to coaching boys basketball at Greenbrier East was a done deal last week, when he told West Virginia MetroNews, “I know I can do the job.”

Lawmakers have questioned whether Justice is committed to the job West Virginians elected him to do since he took office in 2017.

Last month, state Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, wrote a letter to Justice suggesting the governor resign because his attention is too divided. Smith, like Justice, is a Republican.

Smith wrote the letter after the Justices’ Bluestone Resources Inc. sued Britain-based Greensill Capital earlier this year over $850 million in loans the governor personally guaranteed. The Justice family also has sued Carter Bank, claiming its executives schemed to cause the family to default on hundreds of millions of dollars in loans.

Justice settled a lawsuit in February that was filed by former Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, who accused the governor of violating the state constitution by living in Lewisburg, rather than Charleston. Justice agreed to “reside” in Charleston. State taxpayers paid $110,921.60 in attorneys fees on behalf of Justice in the case.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the name of one of the Greenbrier County Board of Education members who previously voted against hiring Gov. Jim Justice as boys basketball coach at Greenbrier East High School in 2010. The article was also updated to include Justice's coaching history according to Gazette-Mail records. 

Lacie Pierson covers politics. She can be reached at 304-348-1723 or Follow @laciepierson on Twitter.

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