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Rollinson Looks to Future by Looking Back With Pride

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can see it at practice, where his gruff voice makes Mater Dei football players snap to attention. Out there, Coach Bruce Rollinson is E.F. Hutton in a jockstrap.

You can see it in the locker room, where his pregame talks build to a crescendo. This is a man who has never heard of the soft sell.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 6, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 6, 1991 Orange County Edition Sports Part C Page 8 Column 1 Sports Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Rollinson case--A story on Nov. 16 incorrectly described the result of an assault trial involving Bruce Rollinson, Mater Dei football coach. The trial ended in a hung jury, and Rollinson subsequently pleaded no-contest to disturbing the peace.

You can see it on the sideline, where he paces--no bounces--back and forth, with that ever-present scowl. The guy can’t stand still long enough for the dust to settle.

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Intensity. You can just see it.

“I’ve brought that back to this program,” Rollinson said. “I want this to be a fun experience for the kids, but we’re going to get after it. I want teams to know they’ve been hit by us. If we get beat, I want the other team to say, ‘We won, but God it hurt.’ I want . . . “

Whoa, easy big fella.

This is Bruce Rollinson, a self-professed madman when it comes to football--especially Mater Dei football. The guy who has the Monarchs on the verge of their first Angelus League championship since 1979.

Mater Dei is back, its fans say, to its rightful place in the world of high school football, and the school’s officials, parents and usually vocal alumni know just who to pat on the back.

Through almost three tumultuous years, Rollinson has pushed and prodded the Monarchs. It hasn’t been a low-key approach and there has been more than one controversy.

But the bottom line is that Rollinson has restored the winning tradition others were demanding. Mater Dei is 8-1 this season and can claim a share of the league title with a victory over Bishop Amat tonight.

“I feel a commitment to the guys who have played here,” Rollinson said. “Those who have come back, look at me and nod. They don’t even have to say anything. It’s not just for the victories, but also for the way we play. They know we go all out.”

That Rollinson, 42, was chosen to roust this sleeping giant was so natural that few, if any, questioned the move.

He has been a history teacher at the school for 15 years. His coaching experience includes seven years as an assistant at Mater Dei and five at Rancho Santiago College.

More importantly, Rollinson is deeply rooted in the Monarchs’ storied past. He was a star running back during their most successful era.

“Bruce knew what Mater Dei tradition was all about,” said Father John Weling, president of the school. “That was the main thing I saw missing in the football program.”

At the press conference announcing Rollinson as coach, the talk was centered on the “glory days” of Mater Dei football. That time in the mid-1960s when Dick Coury was the coach and the Monarchs were a force.

Coury, now the offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, won three Southern Section titles at Mater Dei and has been held up as the example ever since. The two coaches before Rollinson suffered through endless criticism despite having good teams. There were petitions circulated that called for them to be fired, and the complaining became so bad at games that one coach’s wife began sitting on the opposing team’s side of the field.

“This can be the best job in Orange County,” said Gary McKnight, Mater Dei athletic director. “At times, it can be the worst job in Orange County.”

It has become the best of jobs for Rollinson, a well-known disciple of Coury. There has been none of the criticism from parents and alumni that hampered previous coaches.

Winning has been part, but not the entire reason. Prior to this year, Rollinson’s record was a humble 14-10.

But what has set him apart is his personality. A fire-and-brimstone orator, he can captivate an audience--whether it’s a group of teen-age players or a mob of booster club members.

“Bruce can have a hypnotic effect, even with adults,” Rancho Santiago Coach Dave Ogas said. “He gets very emotional, but it’s real genuine. There’s nothing phony about him. It’s what makes him a great motivator.”

Of course, Rollinson’s reputation as a player from the Coury years has helped, too.

He has enhanced that image by having the team wear red helmets and the same style of jerseys that the Monarch teams of the ‘60s wore.

Rollinson was a starting running back for the Monarchs as a junior and senior. The Monarchs won the Major Division championship in 1965 and reached the semifinals in 1966, Rollinson’s senior year. After four years at USC, Rollinson channeled his intensity into coaching. He began his career at Los Angeles Salesian, then returned to Mater Dei as an assistant in 1976.

He went to Rancho Santiago in 1982 and began to think about getting the Mater Dei job.

“I think, deep down, it’s the job that Bruce has always dreamed about getting,” said Loara Coach John deFries, who was also an assistant at Rancho Santiago.

Rollinson got it, after Chuck Gallo was fired in December, 1988. However, he found the return to prominence has been a difficult and, sometimes, painful road.

When the Monarchs got off to an 0-3 start his first season, Rollinson even began questioning whether he was the right man for the job. He said there was no pressure from others, but plenty from himself.

“After my illustrious start, I was starting to think that this could become a disaster,” Rollinson said. “I don’t think the kids understood the complete reckless abandon attitude I wanted.”

The Monarchs adjusted to the changes slowly. The hardest thing was their new coach’s personality after the low-key approach of Gallo.

“They were about as different as two people can be,” said quarterback Danny O'Neil, who is now at Oregon. “Before a game, Coach Rollinson would start talking and it would build. Phrases would stick in your mind and you’d start getting excited. By the end, he was yelling and the guys would be really pumped up.

“I think the team needed some one like that to come in and yell at them to work their butts off.”

The three-game losing streak ended with a victory over Edison.

“I cried, because I sure felt the pressure come off,” Rollinson said.

On the field, it did. Off it, problems were just beginning.

In October, an argument with former athletic trainer Lynn Ingram over leaving the door to the training room unlocked turned heated, and Ingram alleged that Rollinson physically attacked her.

An investigation by school officials determined that he had not, according to Weling. However, Ingram pressed the issue by filing charges with police.

It was the beginning of a 10-month ordeal for Rollinson, which ended with him being acquitted.

“I look back now and it hurts,” he said. “I mean, I’m an intense person, but I’m very sensitive. I felt bad for my mother because it didn’t look good. In the end, after all the testimony, the jury didn’t believe her.”

The arrival of the Sparks cousins at Mater Dei brought more turmoil for Rollinson’s second season. Derek, a blue-chip running back, had left Montclair Prep after one game and Leland, a fifth-year senior, came with him.

Immediately, there was finger-pointing from other coaches, who remembered that Mater Dei had been reprimanded for undue influence in 1987.

“I guess I didn’t see how volatile the situation was,” Rollinson said. “But I wouldn’t have done anything different. I mean, I didn’t do anything. We followed procedure.

“The most difficult part was a couple kids lost their positions. That was the first time it hit me in the face that a lot of this business is about winning.”

Win, he has.

The Monarchs finished last season in a flurry, reaching the Division I semifinals. This year, they’ve stepped up a class.

On the night of Oct. 10, Rollinson ran around the field at Santa Ana Stadium shouting, “We’re back, we’re back. Baby, we’re back.”

The Monarchs had just soundly beaten Mission Viejo, the top-ranked team in Orange County, and were about to assume the No. 1 spot.

Rollinson is more relaxed this season, partly because he has delegated some responsibility. He no longer is the offensive coordinator, a job that Dave Money handles.

That has left Rollinson free to handle the administrative duties, as well as act as the team’s psychological guru--a chore he truly loves.

“I’ve told the parents that I love their kids, but sometimes I may yell at them,” Rollinson said. “I may even cuss at them. I make no bones about that. I’m an intense guy and this is an intense game.

“But if a kid can’t take the heat from a 5-10 madman, what’s he going to do in a big game when the pressure is really on?”


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