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After 5 Years as Coach, Fenwick Was Just Fed Up With Pierce

July 05, 1986|DEREK RASER | Times Staff Writer

Even Jim Fenwick, who resigned as the Pierce College football coach to take an assistant's position at Cal State Northridge, asked the question.

"Why," he said, "after a team had been so successful, had sent so many players on to play at four-year universities, had won three straight championships and had done so much for the school, would I resign?

"I didn't have a job lined up when I left, so it wasn't because I was leaving because I had something better. We had something very good at Pierce. Why would a coach leave?"

Because, Fenwick said in answer to his own question, the college lost sight of what it takes to run a successful program.

Pierce would have a team, the athletic director and college president said, if Fenwick would return as football coach. On May 27, three months after Fenwick accepted an assistant coaching job at Cal State Northridge, Pierce president David Wolf decided that the Pierce football team, which had won three straight conference championships and made three straight appearances in a postseason bowl game, would be eliminated.

Many thought Fenwick had turned his back on the program. Despite the criticism, Fenwick held his tongue--until now. After 12 years with the program--five as head coach--he was fed up.

"There were times," Fenwick said, "when I was constantly covering up behind myself--when we were winning--to make sure the program looked like we had the kind of support that the other schools had.

"I mean, there was a time when Taft came to our place and there was nobody there to greet the bus. There was nobody there to see that they got to their locker room. They had to turn their bus toward the locker room, turn on its headlights, just so the team could suit up."

Fenwick had difficulty getting money for the little things--buses, soft drinks for locker rooms, chin straps, laundry and sewing--and the big things, too, he said.

"We had only one full-time coach on campus: me," he said. "Then, we had three part-time coaches who would come to the school from off campus.

"I would recruit a player and when he came to the school, I had to take him on a tour of the campus, I had to take him through the admissions office, I had to get him to a counselor, I had to make sure he got the right classes and got his books."

Bob O'Connor, the former Pierce Athletic Director who resigned last month, supported Fenwick's claims. "We had a super program and it was all Jimmy," O'Connor said Friday. "We had just one coach on campus and it just couldn't be done. We couldn't move in more people, so Jim had to do it on his own."

Money was the problem, O'Connor said. Administrators at the college, faced with budget cuts and the layoffs of physical education instructors by the L.A. Community College District, maintained that it would be impossible to hire more coaches.

"Money has been a huge factor. I'd thought we'd be getting more money so we could hire more coaches, and instead our budget got cut," O'Connor said.

All of which left Fenwick on his own, he said.

"If a kid goes to Glendale and needs to see a counselor, they say 'OK, you go see coach so-and-so for counseling and then see coach so-and-so and he'll make sure you get your classes.' " Fenwick said. "I'm not saying it's right or wrong to do all that for the kid, but those are the resources I had to compete with. If I don't have those resources, and I walk on the field with a Bakersfield or a Glendale, I'm going to get my butt kicked."

That didn't happen too often to Fenwick, whose teams did most of the butt-kicking the past three Southern California Conference seasons.

In 1983, the Brahmas won the conference and appeared in the Mission Bowl. The following year, Pierce was 10-1 and played Taft in the Potato Bowl to determine the mythical national championship, won by Taft. Last season, the Brahmas were 9-2 and beat Moorpark in the inaugural Brahma Bowl--which, because there are no more Brahmas, has been discontinued.

The Brahma Bowl, Fenwick said, was just another example of how the Pierce football team was mistreated by the Pierce administration, despite the team's success.

Because the team would not receive what the players thought was their fair share of the game's proceeds, the Brahmas were ready to turn down the invitation to appear in their own bowl game, Fenwick said.

In December of last year, Fenwick told The Times, "When you consider the success we have had, we're just not being treated right."

Originally, money from the Brahma Bowl was supposed to aid spring sports at Pierce. "We would have been cheated out of money if they had used the Brahma Bowl as a fund-raiser for other sports," Fenwick said.

"That was our bowl game. I had a meeting with my coaches and the players. I laid it all out in front of them. We had to work hard to get to that bowl game, and it meant two extra weeks of workouts and practice. We decided that if we weren't going to get the money from it, why should we play in it?"

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