McKnight Fall

Gary McKnight built an athletic empire at Mater Dei. Will his role in a pedophiles return to campus destroy it?

That kind of achievement has made the school one of the most sought after by eighth-graders and their families. And it has meant money. In recent years the school has added two new athletic fields with artificial turf. It built a new pool and wrestling room. But the biggest building project was, fittingly, basketball's new home, the $18 million gym that opened this year.

"This is a great time for Mater Dei basketball," McKnight told the Register last spring.


Mater Dei's pep section, the Red Wave. Photo by Jennie Warren
Mater Dei's pep section, the Red Wave. Photo by Jennie Warren
The coach at rest, photo by Jennie Warren
The coach at rest, photo by Jennie Warren

On Jan. 12, Yorba Linda attorney Ernest C. Chen sent a letter to the Weekly demanding we retract and apologize for "McKnight Errant." Chen claimed the Weekly "sullied" the "good name and reputation" of his client, Gary McKnight. Chen's bottom line: the Weekly must "correct, immediately and prominently, the false and defamatory statements of fact and false and defamatory implications" in the article.

That article was based on publicly filed documents, primarily portions of Andrade's deposition. State and federal libel law offer broad protections for publication of statements contained in such documents. Nevertheless, Chen disputed every one of Andrade's claims. Chen asserted Andrade "was not re-employed in any capacity by Matei [sic] Dei" after his 1997 termination. Therefore, Chen concluded, the Weekly was wrong: McKnight could not have and certainly "did not help Mr. Andrade in any way whatsoever to get hired, again, by Mater Dei, let alone having done so without the knowledge or approval of any other Mater Dei official." Furthermore, Chen wrote, "In point of fact, Coach McKnight was not, and had no reason to be, aware or suspicious of any inappropriate or immoral conduct on the part of Mr. Andrade."

Chen's claims are contradicted by Pat Murphy, McKnight's boss, Mater Dei's current president and its former principal. In a 1997 interview with the Westminster Police Department—which investigated Nancy's complaints against Andrade at Mater Dei's request—Murphy told them he ordered McKnight to warn Mater Dei's boys' basketball team about allowing guests into their rooms during team travel. That warning came after students and Mater Dei staff—including Murphy himself—spotted Andrade and Nancy together in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel. The police report also states that Jason Quinn—a fellow basketball coach who remains a McKnight assistant—told Andrade to stop talking to Nancy because "people might get the wrong idea."

Murphy's account, made public thanks to a motion filed by Manly last year, makes it difficult to believe that McKnight—as both Mater Dei's athletic director at the time of Andrade's dismissal and boys' basketball coach—could not have had any clue pertaining to a possible inappropriate relationship between Andrade and his victim. And new details about McKnight's knowledge of Andrade's activities arose on Jan. 8 when Manly and Finaldi deposed Murphy.

In the depositions, Murphy recalled that McKnight approached him with a fundraising idea for the athletic program a couple of years after Andrade left. One of the points of contact for the proposal was Andrade.

In his deposition with Manly, Murphy said, "I told [McKnight] Jeff Andrade was not to be on our campus. Jeff Andrade was not to be involved in this, that I would—we would—take it to the administrative board" if McKnight involved Andrade.

Though McKnight denies it, Murphy supports what Andrade has already stated: that McKnightallowed his former assistant back on campus, and that Andrade worked with Mater Dei's prep teams for about two years. Indeed, Murphy alleges that McKnight worked to keep the arrangement secret. In the deposition, he told Manly that he didn't find out about the Andrade deal until a couple of years ago, when then-vice principal Martin Stringer—now the school's athletic director—told Murphy he had reprimanded McKnight in person and in a letter and "stipulated that the school was to do no more business with any company connected with Mr. Andrade."

Later in his deposition, Manly asked Murphy if he ever discussed Andrade's molestation charges with McKnight when they first emerged in the 1990s. Yes, Murphy said. He recalled that Mater Dei officials were interviewing Andrade about his relationship with Nancy when McKnight allegedly stormed into the room and "told Jeff not to say anything—not to say anything until he got an attorney." The officials told McKnight to get out, then phoned Murphy about the incident.

"I called Mr. McKnight into my office," Murphy told Manly, "and I told Mr. McKnight if he interfered in this case, that I'd put him on administrative leave." Murphy says he also warned McKnight that police investigators could cite the coach for "obstruction of justice" if he intervened again.

McKnight met with Murphy the following day. "He'd gone home and told his wife what had happened," Murphy told Manly, "and she told him what an idiot he was, and he was coming back to apologize to me."

"Why would he think he could do that?" Manly asked. "Why would he do that?"

"Probably helping a friend, believing he was helping a friend," Murphy replied. "I don't know."


In early February, Mater Dei will host the prestigious Nike Extravaganza basketball tournament. The school will buzz again like it did last Friday night. The students will pack the gym. The teams will trample their competitors. Meanwhile, the Andrade case trudges on.

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