Hardman Tells Laguna District He Won't Come Back as Coach

Times Staff Writer

Cedrick W. Hardman, who was arrested for cocaine possession last fall, has told the superintendent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District that he does not intend to try to return as coach of the Laguna Beach High School football team.

Supt. Dennis Smith said he received a letter Tuesday from Hardman in which the former All-Pro National Football League defensive end said he wanted to pursue his own education and would not be back for the 1987 season.

"Basically, he said he wished to pursue some other opportunities, that his educational priorities were important to him and that he wanted to move forward," Smith said. "He wanted to give the school an opportunity to find a quality head football coach."

Hardman was not available for comment Wednesday. He has shunned publicity since his arrest last September, when Laguna Beach police stopped him for speeding on Laguna Canyon Road and saw some powder in his briefcase that later was determined to be cocaine. Hardman also was charged with resisting arrest when he allegedly pushed two police officers while trying to get back into his car.

The school board quickly suspended Hardman without pay from his coaching duties. But in October, after a Municipal Court judge agreed to allow Hardman to enroll in a six-month drug diversion program, the board voted 4 to 1 to let Hardman help coach football practices as a volunteer. The trustees also said they would consider reinstating Hardman as head coach this year if he successfully completed the drug diversion program.

In November, local residents who op posed the board's decision began a petition drive to recall the four trustees--Susan Mas, Charlene Ragatz, Carl Schwarz and Jan Vickers--who voted to let Hardman return as a volunteer coach.

Nancy Kreger, a spokeswoman for the residents' group, Citizens United for Responsible Education (CURE), said Wednesday that the recall effort will continue.

"This changes nothing," Kreger said. "It was Mr. Hardman's personal decision to leave the district, not the school board's. . . . They were very irresponsible to have done what they did in the first place."

The group has gathered about 2,400 of the 3,525 signatures it needs by May to force a recall vote, Kreger said.

Ragatz said that she is still "very comfortable" with the position she took regarding Hardman and that she feels "torn" by his decision not to try to return.

"I feel the program has lost a real leader, and the boys that he started with basically as sophomores who will be seniors this year--he has given them a great deal, and that will stay with them," said Ragatz, whose son, Jeff, plays on the team. "I also know realistically that you have to have the time to devote to that program . . . and he just did not feel he had the time to devote to the responsibilities of head coach."

Hardman's attorney, Ronald P. Kreber, said Hardman is about a year away from completing requirements for a bachelor's degree at UC Irvine, where he is enrolled as a full-time student. He still attends a drug diversion program two or three times a week at South Coast Medical Center, Kreber said.

Laguna Beach High School Principal David Wheeler, who was informed of Hardman's decision at Tuesday night's district board meeting, said resolving the Hardman issue "is good for the community. We and our kids need to go on from here and do some healing. . . . Unfortunately, it's been such a heated issue and has pulled away from our primary charge, which is education."

Wheeler said he immediately would begin a search for a new coach for the football team, which has improved considerably since 1984, when Hardman took over. Last year, the Artists finished 8-2 and lost to Norte Vista in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation southern section playoffs.

The team's acting head coach in Hardman's absence last year, Lloyd Cotton, said he was not interested in having the job permanently "or in any other coaching position in Laguna Beach."

Hardman, the No. 1 draft pick in 1970, starred as a defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers and ended his NFL career in 1981 with the Oakland Raiders.

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