UPDATE, FEB. 15, 10:54 A.M.: Parents of Santa Margarita High School students received emails from school officials this morning announcing the Eagles' head football coach Harry Welch was reinstated after a three-week suspension: “As you may be aware, Coach Harry Welch has been on administrative leave pending a joint review of a situation reported by a parent to the Principal's office. School administration, diocesan officials and local law enforcement have reviewed this matter. That comprehensive review has resulted in returning Coach Welch to his position and duties as Head Football Coach. The safety of our students was paramount in our review and will always remain our first consideration.”
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 10, 9:14 A.M.: Santa Margarita High School's football team is coming off a state championship, having won the CIF Division I bowl game on Dec. 16, and all the state's largest newspaper wants is head coach Harry Welch's head.
Placed on administrative leave as the Rancho Santa Margarita parochial school and the Diocese of Orange investigate allegations he pushed or shoved a player before that bowl win, Welch is also being rocked by the firing of Kevin Lawrence Orton, his third assistant coach accused of drug possession.
“This stunning turn of events is sad and unfortunate, but Welch needs to follow Orton out the door,” writes Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times. “He needs to resign as head football coach.”
December turned out to be both the best and worst month for the Santa Margarita High Eagles. On Dec. 13, between the team's wins in the Southern Section Pac-5 title game and the state championship finale, Welch is accused of shoving or pushing a student-athlete. That led to an Orange County Sheriff's Department investigation, although the Orange County District Attorney's office declined to file charges against Welch.
However, the school and Diocese have not been so forgiving with the coach who took over a middling program two seasons ago that has since gone 22-5 under Welch. Heat from the sheriff's investigation led to the disclosure that varsity assistant coaches Sean Coen and Robert Hendicks, as well as St. Margaret offensive line coach Charles Spann, were arrested on felony counts of cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale before taking plea deals.
After first defending the assistants, the school and Diocese later fired Coen and Hendricks when it was learned they had copped to misdemeanor pot possession early last season.
Then, on Saturday, junior varsity coach Orton was arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance and being under the influence of a controlled substance. No flex defense was employed by the school and Diocese this time; Orton was quickly fired.
Sondheimer would be quick to fire his boss, too.
“The credibility of the school's mission in its community is being threatened,” the journo writes. “One of Welch's prime objectives for coaching — trying to turn boys into ethical, responsible young men—is in question.”
So is the meaning of a game played on grass.