Column: How four Black coaches from LAUSD schools guided their teams to title contention

Taft coach Derrick Taylor, left, and Birmingham coach Nick Halic pose for a photo.
Taft High coach Derrick Taylor, left, and Birmingham High coach Nick Halic both graduated from their respective schools.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Nick Halic was close to joining the LAPD. He had completed a background investigation and gone through a grueling interview from retired detectives. He still had to pass a psychology test before being accepted into the police academy. He was sitting at a fancy restaurant in Las Vegas with friends when his cellphone showed a call from basketball coach Todd Wolfson.

“Hey, I just got through my interview at Chaminade,” Wolfson said. “I would love to have you on my staff if I get the job.”

Halic was torn. He was 26, a Birmingham High and college graduate who loved basketball. He was working in the Los Angeles Unified School District‘s Beyond the Bell program with middle-school students. His friend told him, “You’re always telling me about the kids. You should get into education.”


Halic changed his future. He dropped his LAPD plans to become a teacher and coach. Now he’s a dean at Birmingham, has won two City Section titles, and at 39 serves as a role model to players and students.

He’s not alone. All four head coaches of the teams that made it to the City Section Open Division semifinals graduated from schools in the LAUSD and were inspired to return as teacher/coaches because adults made positive impressions to change their lives and put them on a path to giving back.

“What drew me to it was my relationship with my coach and what he did for me,” Halic said, referring to former Birmingham coach Al Bennett. “I didn’t have a father. I learned from coach Bennett.”

Birmingham High’s Kory Blunt, son of former San Fernando football coach Sean Blunt, has a passion for basketball that his dad’s friends helped fuel.

Fairfax coach Reggie Morris Jr. comes from City Section royalty. His father, Reggie Sr., was the basketball coach and P.E. teacher for many years at Manual Arts. Reggie Jr. graduated from Westchester, learned from Hall of Fame coach Ed Azzam, went to Howard University to play basketball, then suffered a career-ending injury. It was natural for him to stay involved in the game.

“I knew from my dad you don’t get paid from coaching, you get paid from teaching. He put me on path to becoming a teacher at an early age,” he said.

Reggie Jr. coached Russell Westbrook at Lawndale Leuzinger, had successful teams at Playa del Rey St. Bernard and Redondo Union and was briefly an assistant at Pepperdine before returning to the LAUSD as a teacher and coach at Fairfax. He seems home again, trying to influence players that need his commitment to their lives.

Lloyd Webster played basketball at Harbor City Narbonne, then went to junior college and college. He made some relationships and a former rival coach offered him an assistant coaching job at Marshall. He earned his teaching credential and became the basketball coach at Locke and now King/Drew while teaching physical education full time. He remembers the coach telling him, “Oh, Webster, you should go into teaching because it’s a good way to give back.”

He loved teaching P.E. and coaching. “It came with a great deal of responsibility,” he said.

Derrick Taylor played basketball at Woodland Hills Taft for coach John Furlong even though he lived at 89th and Central in South Los Angeles. He returned as a junior varsity coach for 10 years before leading the Taft varsity to three City titles from 2001 to 2011. He left for four years to coach at Bellflower St. John Bosco, winning a state title. He’s been back since 2015 and isn’t likely to leave again. He’s a substitute teacher and feels he’s making a difference.

“The coaching in the district reflects the student body,” he said. “A lot of people enjoyed their high school experience and are trying to bring it back for our young kids.”

Each had to make the commitment of going to college, passing required courses and dealing with the bureaucracy and frustrations of trying to become a teacher. The fact each is Black puts them in a position of power to influence and inspire from within their programs and schools. They are proud LAUSD grads who showed that making it in a leadership role is possible.

It’s not easy. Fairfax played Birmingham in a semifinal playoff game at 4 p.m. on Tuesday because of a bus driver shortage. Teams haven’t been allowed to travel because of COVID-19 restrictions. Crowds have been limited in the bleachers. It’s one obstacle after another. Yet, they refuse to let negativity keep them down.

They know the history of LAUSD, where some of the greatest athletes in California history were produced. There are Hall of Famers after Hall of Famers in a variety of sports, the likes of John Elway, Marques Johnson, Ozzie Smith and Steve Kerr.

Their job as teachers and coaches is to keep hope alive, keep inspiring students, keep letting others know there is a path to success. On Saturday night, Fairfax will play King/Drew for the City Open Division championship.

“I saw my dad give back,” Reggie Jr. said. “Hopefully we can inspire another generation to give back and not forget where you came from.”