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The Fury Fades : Sylmar's Engilman Has Mellowed Since Days at Grant

October 16, 1987|STEVE ELLING | Times Staff Writer

It is not a flattering photo, but Jeff Engilman is nonetheless having it silk-screened onto a T-shirt. It shows Engilman, with eyes bulging and jaw jutting, face to facemask with one of his Manual Arts High players who committed some unpardonable football sin.

You may even have seen it.

"It was taken by a newspaper lady who was out to shoot one of our games," Engilman said. "But it ended up winning a bunch of awards. I'm having my wife put it on a shirt so I can wear it around and show these guys how obnoxious I used to be.

"They don't know how far I've come."

Like someone wearing his heart on his sleeve, Engilman plans to wear his former persona on his chest. The photograph, you see, captured the essence of Engilman's image.

He insists it is the old Engilman and that he's eschewed chewing on a player's ear.

"I've mellowed," he said. "Nobody here can believe I used to be that bad."

Bad is in the eye of the beholder, but Engilman has been called that--and much worse. Now, however, he's starting anew at Sylmar, two years after he was fired from a coaching position at Grant, the Pac 8 League opponent that Sylmar plays today at 3 p.m.

Some wonder whether Engilman, who stalked the sidelines like a pit bull kicked by its owner, can really mean what he says. After all, this is a coach who used to send shivers up the spine of the toughest inner-city players.

"I think he used to stay at home and practice those faces he makes," cracked Cleveland Coach Steve Landress, who co-coached with Engilman at Manual Arts and last year at Cleveland. "That's the only way anybody could get that ugly."

There is additional evidence to support the Engilman's-a-cooler-customer theory. At Wednesday's practice at Sylmar, three gunshots rang out from an apartment complex across the street, about 200 yards away.

Players jumped and glanced nervously at one another. One asked whether it was a car backfiring. Engilman, however, never batted an eye or raised an eyebrow.

"We got that all the time back at Manual," he announced with a smile. "This is just like the old days."

Ah, yes, the old days. Engilman and Landress won City 3-A titles in 1983 and '84 at Manual Arts, but Engilman, who lives in Acton, a rural, high-desert town near Palmdale, sought a transfer to a Valley school. Despite the success of the Manual Arts teams, the 125-mile commute to school and back had become too much.

In 1985, he secured a teaching and coaching position at Grant in Van Nuys.

"I thought I had it made," he said. "I was home."

Engilman is definitely familiar with the territory, much more so than just through the windshield of a commuter's automobile. He graduated from Poly in 1968 and served as the B team coach at his alma mater for three years. He played in the early 1970s at Valley College and Cal Lutheran before earning a teaching credential from Cal State Northridge in 1974.

During the spring of 1985, however, Engilman was caught in a whirlwind of controversy that ultimately cost him the Grant coaching job and a good chunk of self-esteem--an incident that put Engilman's name in newspaper headlines and his reputation through the wringer.

Engilman was accused of drawing female genitalia on tackling dummies used during spring workouts. Another coach at the school saw the markings and started proceedings that sent Engilman packing.

By the time the smoke cleared--and after several teachers at Grant signed a petition calling for his ouster--the transfer was rescinded. The Los Angeles Unified School District banned him from coaching for the 1985 season. Some teachers at Grant branded him a sexist.

"It put my wife and I through hell," he said. "She wanted me to fight it, and in retrospect, I think I should have sued everybody involved for libel. There was no due process. It was a rough year.

"I was deeply hurt. I have always been a true-blue employee, and when the district turned around and did that, it really stung."

Engilman still maintains the incident never occurred.

"A lot of people never really understood what really happened," he said, "and a lot still don't know what happened. We were working on the bags and I was getting on the kids for not hitting. I took an ink pen out and said 'This is where I want you to hit it,' and drew a bunch of scribbly lines, that's all they were.

"Even another coach that saw it said you'd have to have a vivid imagination to see what they said was there."

This afternoon, a reformed Engilman returns to Grant.

"It should be rather strange, because I haven't been back there at all since," he said.

Engilman hasn't explained the reasons, but he has mentioned to the Sylmar players that this game means a little more in the emotion department.

"I basically told them that if there is one game to win this season, this is it," he said.

Obbie Brown, who attended CSUN with Engilman and now serves as the Sylmar offensive coordinator, said Engilman wants to show Grant it made a mistake.

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