Still Rivals : Instead of a Traditional Meeting in the Opener, Scott, Welch Brace for a December Duel With More Than Bragging Rights in Santa Clarita Valley at Stake
Once again the clock strikes high noon for Rick Scott and Harry Welch, two men forever linked in Santa Clarita Valley football lore, two men who offer proof positive that opposites attract.
Where else but on a football field, glaring eyeball to eyeball 53 1/3 yards apart, would anyone expect to find these very successful, very opposite coaches together?
And at 7:30 tonight, for the fifth time in as many years, that is exactly where they will be as Scott brings his surprising Buena High Bulldogs to Canyon High for a Southern Section Division II semifinal match-up with Welch’s Cowboys.
In the past, their meetings arrived early in the season. Scott, who compiled a record of 41-9-2 at Hart from 1984 to ’87, and Welch, who has a record of 80-12 since taking over at Canyon in 1982, met 4 times in the traditional nonleague opener between the Cowboys and Indians. Always a showdown, almost always a shoot-out, the game was won by Canyon in 3 of the 4 meetings during the Scott-Welch era.
The rivalry apparently had ended this year when Scott left Hart to rebuild a stagnant Buena program. Scott, continuing his winning ways, led the Bulldogs (2-8 last year, 10-2 this year) to their first playoff berth since 1981. Welch led the Cowboys (10-2) to their seventh consecutive playoff berth and sixth consecutive semifinal appearance.
Yet, thanks to the Southern Section playoffs and good defensive play by both teams, Scott and Welch are reunited for another confrontation--this time with much more at stake.
For the most part, however, coaching success is where the similarities begin and end with the Odd Couple of coaching.
At 6 feet, 1 inch, 235 pounds, Scott, 39, is rather large. “One of the local newspapers called me ‘Roly-poly,’ ” Scott said. “I didn’t really like that.”
By comparison, Welch, 43, is lean and trim at 6 feet, 175 pounds.
Scott, jovial, wise-cracking, easy-going, is the kind of guy you want to pull up a stool beside and drink a beer with. Said Welch: “He has a quicker wit than me.”
Welch is the kind of guy who likes to stay home and throw a log in the fireplace. “I’ve never seen him hanging around the pubs,” Scott said.
That’s because Welch doesn’t. “I’m more of a homebody,” he said. “I really enjoy going home and spending time with my wife.”
Contradictions arise even in their similarities. Both are dog lovers. And as any dog owner will tell you, man’s best friend is supposed to reflect the personality of its owner.
Welch, however, owns a pair of St. Bernards. “And he looks like one,” he said of Scott.
Said Scott: “I just had to put my two dogs to sleep. They were Pomeranians.”
On the practice field, the pair differ drastically. Scott, admittedly, is “a little bit of a joker,” while Welch’s lengthy, physically intense sessions are legendary--and dreaded--among Canyon players.
“You have to concentrate during practice or it gets ugly,” Canyon quarterback Rod Baltau said. Ugliness arrives in the form of sprint laps. Lots of them. At one time.
“He could run you all day,” Baltau said of Welch. “An awful lot is demanded of you. It never gets to the point where it doesn’t bother you. It never gets easier.”
Said tackle Rick McKeon: “When I see that practice is not running well, I say, ‘Let’s pick it up, guys.’ For me, it’s scary. I hate running.”
Scott’s approach is a bit lower on the intensity meter--and a bit higher on the laugh meter.
“He makes football fun, especially practice,” said senior free safety Tom Lunsford, who leads Buena with 8 interceptions. “With other coaches, I’d dread practice late in the season. This year, I actually look forward to practice and it’s because of Coach Scott.”
Said two-way starter Steve Brooks: “Coach Scott is the reason the attitude changed on this team. Not just that he’s new and different, but it’s his sense of humor. The humor makes practice fun.”
Good times have definitely arrived at Buena, where Scott is viewed as something of a football savior. The Bulldogs have never before reached the semifinals. “The neatest thing for me is just watching everyone get excited about it,” Scott said.
Linebackers Jason Phipps, Richard Harris and Dan White lead an inspired defense that improved as the season progressed. Last week, Buena held off Muir, 7-6. Although the Bulldogs have not faced many passing teams, they have 22 interceptions, 1 shy of the school record.
Cornerback Jim Collins, who has 7 interceptions, is also the top offensive threat at wide receiver. He has 52 receptions for 980 yards, both school records. Junior quarterback Jason Isaacs has completed 152 of 308 passes for 2,283 yards and 13 touchdowns. Of course, numbers like those are normal in a passing system as complex as Scott’s.
“Coach Scott is a football genius,” Lunsford said.
Scott, however, readily admits that Welch is driven by a stronger work ethic.
“Harry puts in more time than I do,” he said. “I’ve never known a man who puts in as much time. I don’t even take a football out until May and he’s doing things in February. His commitment is incredible.”
Said Welch: “Our styles are just much different. A lot of my players call me ‘Mr. Welch.’ I imagine his players call him ‘Coach.’ ”
Yet Scott admittedly has never emerged from Welch’s coaching shadow.
Under Welch, Canyon won 3 consecutive Southern Section championships and posted a much-acclaimed 46-game winning streak, tying a Southern Section record. Welch, it seems, has always been Scott’s nemesis--at least until Scott finally defeated Welch after 3 failures. Hart hammered Canyon, 41-21, last year, the largest margin of victory between the coaches.
“It meant a lot to finally get the monkey off my back,” Scott said. “If I didn’t beat them then, then I might have feelings that I have to beat them now. But I don’t have that.”
Scott, in fact, fears the Bulldogs might be blown out. Canyon has surrendered only 49 points over the past 7 games. The Cowboys, who rolled up 417 yards in a 29-14 win over Hawthorne last week, have rushed for 2,478 yards, most in the Valley area.
Tailback Chris Peery has rushed for 1,235 yards and fullback Robert Leary--who Scott describes as a ferocious blocker--has 622 rushing yards. On defense, linemen Justin Fix, Sean McCune and Eric Hanes, linebacker John Bietsch and cornerback Jason Stanley dole out the punishment.
“I’ve seen them on tape, they’re tough,” Scott said. “They bowled over a team in the second round and we just got by by the hair of our chinny-chin chins. It wasn’t even hair, it was a piece of peach fuzz.
“I’m concerned about us being embarrassed. I don’t want our kids hanging our heads at the banquet.”
Welch isn’t singing in tune with Scott’s sympathy song.
“What, is he drinking?,” Welch asked. “Son of a gun, he’s got big strong kids and all of his positions are well-coached. Yeah, I feel real sorry for him. So could we get blown out.”
Welch also disagrees that he gobbled all the plaudits during the Scott-Welch era, labeling it “coincidence.”
“I thought they had a tremendous program and he was a marvelous coach there,” Welch said. “We just happened to be hot all the time. Canyon didn’t get all the press.”
Considering his accomplishments at Hart--4 consecutive Foothill League titles, 20 consecutive league victories and a Southern Section championship in 1986--Scott should not be ashamed of anything. And he isn’t.
“But the guy across town,” Scott said, “he made what I accomplished meaningless. Not to me, but to some people.
“His success was so huge, so big, so dynamic that anything less than that was just ho-hum. Even though I’d won 20 league games in a row and 4 league championships, because I didn’t win 46 in a row it wasn’t good enough and I kept asking why. It was something that bothered me. It was just that the community measured success by Harry.”
Scott will not be short of support against Welch tonight. Several of his former players at Hart--Brian Allen, Howard Blackwell, Jamie Carroll, Elliot Graeber, Keith Kershaw, et al--plan to attend the game.
“We all want to see Coach Scott win,” said Allen, the Indians’ talented tight end. “We kind of miss him.”
Said Graeber: “When he was here, I don’t think anybody thought he could coach because he always had Jim Bonds and Brian Allen and he had height and talent. But he’s gone to Buena and proved he could coach.”
For all its significance as a playoff game--the winner will advance to next week’s championship against the winner between Antelope Valley and Palmdale--the game is being reduced to Scott vs. Welch--Part V.
“I hear people talking about it,” said Baltau, the Canyon quarterback. “Scott and Welch going at it again. I just keep hearing that Scott doesn’t like Canyon all that much.”
The same rumors persist in Ventura. Said Buena guard Matt Biesecker: “From what I hear, Coach Scott and the coach from Canyon don’t care for each other.”
Scott and Welch both dismiss talk of animosity. And both are willing to shun history and hoopla and just play the game.
“I respect him and I enjoy his wit,” Welch said. “I know I’m going up against a formidable opponent. But it’s certainly not Harry vs. Rick. It’s the Cowboys vs. the Bulldogs.”
Said Scott: “Everybody’s talking about this rivalry. There isn’t any rivalry. I know what everyone is getting at--I’m going back into the Santa Clarita Valley. But I go back there three times a week. I’m in Newhall a lot. My girlfriend lives in Newhall.”
Yet Scott admits he is excited.
“The fact that I’m gonna be back there is gonna be a blast,” he said. “I hope there’s a sprinkling of red jackets in the stands.”
Even better. Several Hart players intend to shed the school’s red and black colors and don the blue and white of Buena.
“We’re going to paint ‘Bulldogs’ on our chests and stand on the sidelines,” Carrol said. “I think the whole team is going to be there. Everybody’s talking about it.”
Said Allen: “It’s always been a rivalry. It’s Harry Welch and Rick Scott.”