Robert Garrett is the most colorful, frequently infuriating and sometimes inspiring high school football coach in Southern California.
For 32 seasons he has done things his way and couldn’t care less what anyone else says or thinks. Seemingly every season through the 1990s and into the 21st century, there has been at least one parent or one fan calling for his dismissal, whether because the team didn’t win enough, he didn’t contact enough college recruiters to promote his players or he said something insulting.
“... them,” is how he would respond.
He started his career when Crenshaw had a student body of more than 3,000 and a varsity football roster of 60. This year, his varsity roster lists 25 players and the student body is around 700.
“It’s crazy, man,” he said.
He’s still the only City Section coach to have had a football team reach the CIF state championship Open Division bowl game. In 2009, led by De’Anthony Thomas, the Cougars lost to Concord De La Salle 28-14.
He truly has reached the dinosaur phase of his career, being the rarest of the rare, a P.E. teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who still coaches. Players swear by him and sometimes sportswriters want to swear at him.
Seemingly every season, he fails to return the form sent out to see who might be his top players for the coming season.
“I don’t know” is his answer.
Reporters have shown up to practices and he’s refused to let them in. You can show up to games and depending on his mood he’s either the most gracious person around or the most belligerent.
Broadcaster Randy Rosenbloom remembers interviewing Garrett in the P.E. office one day when an all-out brawl erupted between two girls. A calm Garrett said, “Welcome to Crenshaw. Just another day on campus.”
The G Man, as his ex-players fondly call him, always bursts with pride when it’s mentioned he graduated from Concordia Teachers College in Nebraska. He loves being a teacher. He was named the Don Shula NFL high school coach of the year in January 2018. The award “was created to honor exemplary high school football coaches who demonstrate a commitment to player health and safety, and the integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula.”
One of his former players in the NFL, Brandon Mebane of the Chargers, said of Garrett, “He’s served the community very well. He’s helped a lot of kids become great men.”
Garrett has kept coming back to help teenagers on the way to adulthood in a challenging environment. Some players have been shot and killed. Others were sent to prison. Yet, he refuses to call it quits no matter how many times his heart has been wounded by tragedy.
The freshmen who play this season and stay through 2023 will be the final four-year players Garrett coaches at Crenshaw. He said he intends to retire from teaching after the 2022-23 school year but perhaps keep coaching if someone needs him.
“Spread the word,” he said. “I will be available.”
Meanwhile, he will keep pushing forward with the every day challenges of coaching in the City Section. Crenshaw opened the season with a 40-20 win over Reseda. Last week, the Cougars lost to Upland 48-0. Next week the Cougars, who do not play this week, take on Garfield.
Mebane said Crenshaw players receive lessons beyond football.
“Every young male, at some point, you need to have some type of discipline in order to be successful in anything,” Mebane said. “It wasn’t a bad discipline. It was a good discipline. It worked for a lot of guys. A lot of guys needed that.”
Staff writer Jeff Miller contributed to this column.