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Whose Job Is It Anyway? : At Servite, Leo Hand Is the Coach, but Not Everyone's Happy About It

November 12, 1987|STEVE LOWERY and CHRIS FOSTER | Times Staff Writers

If, as Leo Hand says, he was meant to be the football coach at Servite High School, one has to wonder whether the job is his reward or penance.

In four years of coaching Orange County's richest football program--in dollars and pomp--he has endured a legacy of abuse from the stands and of petitions for his removal being distributed in the school parking lot.

"Looking back, I'm glad I came here," Hand said. "But, to be honest, if I had known what this job would be like, I would have never applied for it."

Then, of course, Hand believes he had no say in the matter.

"I was all set to go to Texas," he said. "I really wasn't that interested in the job; I didn't put a lot of effort into getting it. But I did. . . . Things like that, things that have gone on here, make me think I was supposed to come here and coach."

How long he will coach at Servite, where the school colors are black and white, is another gray area.

"It may be for the next 20 years, and I may be gone in the next 20 hours," Hand said.

Father Charles Motsko, Servite principal, when asked about the likelihood of firing Hand, said: "I'm not aware of it. If I was to do anything, I would wait until the dust settled. Perhaps February."

The Friars (6-2-1 overall, 2-2 in league play), who are said by everyone but Hand to have the best talent in the Angelus League, must beat Mater Dei tonight (7:30, Santa Ana Stadium) to salvage a winning record in league.

Win or lose tonight, Servite probably will compete in the Southern Section's Big Five playoffs, at the very least as a wild-card selection. And win or lose tonight, the grumbling that Leo Hand should be fired will continue at next week's booster club meeting.

"There's always turmoil concerning that issue," said Jon Borowiec, Servite athletic director. "And I'm sure if we lose to Mater Dei, there will be even more people who want to get rid of Leo Hand."

Put even more succinctly by a booster who asked not to be identified: "Why should next week be any different? They want him fired every week."

They are some of the school's boosters. And they circulated a petition to have Hand removed after the 1985 season, Hand's second at Servite. His records those first two seasons were 10-2 and 9-3.

"It's not about winning and losing," Hand said. "There are just people here who don't like me."

However, winning and losing have a lot to do with his troubles, as does the fact that Leo Hand's personality has been described, by the people who support him, as varying from cold to arrogant.

He has coached 44 games at Servite, won 33, lost 10 and tied 1. Servite won the Angelus League championship in 1984, Hand's first season.

However, the program that Hand took over in 1984 had won back-to-back Big Five championships in 1982 and 1983 under Ron Smeltzer. Hand's teams have qualified for the playoffs every year but never have made it past the second round of the playoffs. Which, to hard-liners, is reason enough for his removal.

"(They've) built up a lot of expectations, some of which are not reasonable," said Allen Wallace, editor of Super Prep magazine. "You look back 20 years or so, Anaheim was a great team. Then it fell, and Edison and Fountain Valley became great teams. They've fallen this year, and the great teams are in the south county, like Capistrano Valley and El Toro. They'll eventually fall also. But the one constant has been Servite. They've always been very good. People expect nothing less."

And it always has been considered the responsibility of the coach to fulfill those expectations.

Servite is reputed to attract the best and the brightest of student athletes. Coaches in Southern California say the booster club brings in as much money as any in the area. The stands are always near capacity.

"If you're going to get that type of money and support, people are going to expect you to win," said Duke Dulgarian, St. Bernard coach.

And if you don't win, or win big, or win the Big One, people are going to talk about getting rid of you. The three coaches who preceded Hand--Chuck Gallo (1972-73), Ken Visser (1974-78) and Smeltzer (1979-84)--all were under the same harsh scrutiny.

"I heard the same things about Gallo and Visser and Smeltzer that I'm hearing about Leo Hand," said Motsko. "We've always tried to create the feeling that Servite is one big family. Unfortunately, some people get the impression that means they can say anything they want."

Even the since-sainted Smeltzer, with two Big Five championships in tow, was the object of criticism.

"I had people tell me not to buy a house because I wasn't going to be here long," Smeltzer said. "It's kind of funny when you look back. But, at the time, it was quite disturbing."

Motsko said: "I had a very prominent Servite football alumnus tell me the best thing I could do for Servite was get rid of Ron Smeltzer."

That was 1981. Smeltzer's team won it all in 1982.

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