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Resignation of Coach Stirs Unrest

Times Staff Writer

In appreciation of Fred Neilson’s 17 years as a North Hollywood football coach, the last 12 as head coach, he was awarded a trophy Monday by the school.

The trophy will be sitting on a mantle in his living room when North Hollywood takes the field next autumn.

But rather than leading the Huskies, Neilson will be sitting in that same room, contemplating the bizarre series of events that led to his forced resignation.

In a move that caused friction among the faculty, Principal Wilbert Whitaker demanded Neilson’s resignation shortly after North Hollywood finished 2-7 for the second straight season.

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Fred Grimes, a former Pierce College assistant football coach, was hired in February to replace Neilson. That caused more bitterness among faculty.

Because of the flap, the administrator who hired Grimes, Richard Kunes, was stripped of his responsibilities in athletics.

“It’s been a soap opera,” said a teacher who requested his name not be used.

According to Neilson, Whitaker believed the team lacked sufficient discipline.

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“The principal said he was thinking about making a change,” Neilson said. “I replied that I’d like to coach for one more year.”

After consulting with Kunes, however, Whitaker announced that Neilson had resigned. Neilson will remain at the school as a physical education teacher.

Asked if the reason behind Neilson’s departure stemmed from a lack of discipline on the team, Whitaker said: “I’d rather not comment, but I won’t deny it.”

Said Neilson: “I didn’t have a hard enough hand and I guess it cost me. Authoritarian coaches dominate the profession. I had a little of that but tempered it with understanding.

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“I’ll admit we had internal problems. I tried to keep one guy out of jail. Another kid missed a lot of school and I nursed him along. I had to eventually kick them both off the team, but I don’t regret making an effort.”

Kunes hired Grimes, a friend who had been teaching at Granada Hills, but it cost him his duties as administrator for athletics. They had taught together at Manual Arts.

Said Whitaker: “Because of the friendship, I felt the effectiveness of the program’s leadership was in jeopardy.”

Grimes teaches mathematics, and a North Hollywood math teacher was forced to transfer to Palisades to make room for the new coach. Other math teachers protested the move.

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Discontent over Neilson’s resignation and the hiring of Grimes has been somewhat eased by the personality of the new coach.

“Fred Grimes is a very motivating person who has a lot of exciting ideas,” Whitaker said. “There was the largest turnout for spring football I’ve ever seen.”

Meanwhile, Neilson, who led North Hollywood to league titles in 1974, ’76 and ’77, already misses coaching.

“The intensity of coaching is not something easily replaced,” he said. “I’d like to sink my teeth into something else but I haven’t found anything yet.

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“We had a bad year and there was criticism. People forget the good years.”

Add North Hollywood: Grimes, 38, is enthusiastic about establishing a winning program at North Hollywood.

“I’ll be at the school all day, every day during the summer,” Grimes said. “We’ve got kids waiting in line outside the weight room. I’m real high.”

North Hollywood has adopted the offensive scheme of former Pierce College offensive coordinator Don Markham. “It’s innovative,” Grimes said. “We’ll use a lot of motion and multiple sets.”

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The new coach has already made personnel changes. James Crump has been converted from wide receiver to quarterback and Steve Chuck will play fullback as well as defensive back.

“The kids are hungry, to say the least,” Grimes said.

My heart’s on fire, Elmira: Dave Milstien, shortstop at Simi Valley High, signed a contract Tuesday with the Boston Red Sox. The 6-0, 165-pound senior will report on June 21 to Boston’s rookie league team in Elmira of the New York-Penn League.

Milstien, an eighth-round selection in the free-agent draft, returned home Tuesday after competing in a five-game high school all-star series in Oklahoma. Upon his return, Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson signed him to a contract.

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Milstien, who declined to reveal the amount of his signing bonus, is the second Simi Valley player to sign. Two weeks ago, pitcher Scott Radinsky signed with the Chicago White Sox.


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