Advertisement

Private schools’ firing of football coaches is a troubling trend

There has been a disheartening descent into the abyss taking place at the most unexpected of places -- big-time private school football programs.

When Encino Crespi, Santa Margarita, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Los Angeles Loyola all start looking for new football coaches after failing to make the playoffs, it sends a message that if you’re seeking job security, don’t apply to a private school that expects to compete for a championship every season in the toughest division in California, the Pac-5.

It’s both curious and mysterious how these coaches were running prestigious programs one day, then cleaning out their offices the next.

I still haven’t figured out what really happened to Jeff Kearin at Loyola. He disappeared in the middle of the season. A school spokesman refused to allow me to ask Principal Frank Kozakowski a single question about Kearin’s resignation five years after his first team won a Division I title.

Now former coach Steve Grady is on a screening committee searching for a replacement. I’m sure some Loyola fans hope Grady pulls a Dick Cheney and decides he’s the most qualified for the job.

Jeremiah Ross was ousted at Crespi. No one cares that he won a section title five seasons ago and got the Celts into the Pac-5 final in 2007. The Celts didn’t make the playoffs the last two seasons, so he’s banished.

Mike Jacot resigned at Santa Margarita after seven years as coach to become the strength and conditioning coach. Forget that he ran a clean program and taught his players right from wrong. The Eagles couldn’t break into the Trinity League elite.

And this month, Kiki Mendoza lost his job at St. John Bosco after 12 years as coach. Yes, the Braves had trouble finishing in the upper echelon of the brutally tough Trinity League that includes Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite and Orange Lutheran, but who wouldn’t?

Mendoza is a man of integrity who always tried to get his players attention from college recruiters. A former St. John Bosco assistant, Jason Negro, the head coach at Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills, has taken over for Mendoza.

What’s the link to all these coaches’ no longer being in charge? They didn’t win enough games at schools where football helps fill up classrooms and cash registers.

What I don’t like is that the high school sports model is moving closer and closer to how things are done at the collegiate and professional levels.

Being a good teacher and a good role model isn’t enough to keep a coaching job. Principals, under pressure from parents and boosters, are pushing competent coaches out the door and hoping for a savior when one might not exist.

Everyone seems to forget that there was a time schools didn’t win every year. There used to be rebuilding years. A talented senior class graduates, and the underclassmen step in and struggle trying to gain experience. Now, with transfers galore, certain schools keep winning every season, and people want to join the crowd.

It’s an illusion of success built around perception and hype. It’s going to lead to more -- let’s all say the words -- illegal recruiting.

The way private schools are behaving indicates winning matters most. But at what cost?

I’m beginning to believe the rumors of huge salaries and perks being dangled to lure top coaches with the belief more football victories are a must to run a successful private school. It makes sense since football is apparently attracting more students than the science program or debate team.

It’s not right, but that’s where things are headed. Good luck to those who want to compete in an environment where the definition of success is changing.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer


Advertisement
Advertisement