In between taking phone calls from somber players and well-wishers, Ron Ponciano spent Saturday preparing his house for sale. The 40-year-old football coach must take his wife and 3-year-old son and move in with his in-laws.
That’s one price of getting fired.
Another is seeing his name linked to “serious and substantial” violations of NCAA rules in front page and online news stories.
“I have a real hard time reading any of this without crying,” he said. “In 15 years of marriage, my wife never saw me cry. She’s seen a lot of tears lately.”
Ponciano was fired by Cal State Northridge on Friday following an internal investigation prompted by an anonymous letter. Northridge officials did not reveal the nature of the violations but promised to do so in about two weeks when a report is made to the NCAA.
The intent of the administration might also be revealed at that time. Was Ponciano’s firing a legitimate response to serious allegations or an attempt to gore the Matador program in anticipation of dropping football a year from now?
Administrators have discussed cutting football to help Northridge comply with gender-equity laws and to avoid building the $10 million stadium the Big Sky Conference is requiring, sources said.
Doug Fullerton, commissioner of the Big Sky, is less than optimistic.
“Northridge is trying to get a handle on the program, and this just steepens the hill,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Ponciano has strong feelings about the motives of Northridge and Cal State University officials, but besides denying that the violations were serious, he is keeping quiet until he decides whether to proceed with legal action.
Meanwhile, he will look for a job.
“I turned down five jobs since the end of last season and three were slam dunks,” he said. “Now this. The pain is practically unbearable. I want to go out with some dignity.”
Sam Jankovich, who was Northridge interim athletic director until Dick Dull was hired last month, believes Ponciano will land on his feet.
“Ponce is an outstanding football coach and somebody will use good judgment by hiring him,” Jankovich said.
The anonymous letter was received by Jankovich in late May. He turned it over to Louanne Kennedy, interim president at Northridge, and was told the investigation would be conducted by Peter Dinauer, an internal auditor with extensive experience within the Cal State University system.
“My gut feeling is the letter was written by someone very close to the situation,” Jankovich said.
One allegation surrounds a recruiting trip made last summer by defensive lineman DeAndre Harris of Davenport, Iowa. Ponciano said Dinauer believes he purchased an airline ticket for Harris in violation of NCAA rules.
“They think I did it and that’s good enough to them,” Ponciano said. “Sure, I knew [Harris] was going to be here. But I don’t know how the doggone ticket was paid for.”
Northridge must conduct a search for its fourth coach in four years. Defensive line coach Terrance Johnson, 31, is administrator in charge until a coach is hired.
Of the handful of assistants remaining on the staff, only Foster Anderson, 59, has enough experience to be considered as head coach. Defensive coordinator Craig Wall and running backs coach Keith Borges have been on vacation since the anonymous letter was sent and are not expected to return.
After some initial talk of quitting or transferring, Northridge players are prepared to make the most of the season.
“We still have to play to the best of our ability,” said Aaron Arnold, a senior receiver.
“The guys I’ve talked to feel the same way. We’ll do it in honor of Ponce and to prove to this stupid school we can get the job done even though they are trying to tear us apart.”