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Gene Wojciechowski

Opportunity Knocked, and Enright Let Reason Walk Out the Door

November 22, 1987|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI

For a while, Dick Enright had it all. He had a coaching record that belonged in neon, a devoted staff, a passion for excellence. Depending on whom you talk to, Enright inspired or infuriated. There were few in-betweens.

Success rarely left his side. In Enright's eight seasons as football coach at Gardena High School, his teams won two Los Angeles City championships and five league titles. At Capistrano Valley, he won the Central Conference Championship in 1980 and compiled a 66-23-3 record. His resume included stays with USC, the San Francisco 49ers and the Rams. He coached at the University of Oregon before accepting the job at Gardena.

"The hardest coaching job in the world is in high school," he said in a 1980 interview, "and it's probably the most rewarding. I don't have any problems coming back. I could be a head coach in the pros and the next day I could be a high school coach and it wouldn't bother me."

That's why Enright's players admired him. He was, in a sense, one of them, but just a little bit older.

Built like a beer keg with legs, Enright had the look of a football player. He wasn't afraid to take a turn on the blocking sled, or dirty his knees or shed a tear or two. This was what he did best.

"I've really been blessed as a coach," he said earlier this week. "I've gotten to coach at every level. I coached in the WFL, the NFL, college, high school. I've had a lot of enjoyment."

You can still find Enright in the Capo Valley football office. But what used to be a second home is now only a rueful reminder of days past. When the Cougars make their way to the practice field, Enright no longer joins them. He is there, but he isn't.

On a fine evening, Oct. 27, Enright made the mistake of a career. His record suddenly was accompanied by an asterisk, his reputation shadowed by a footnote. He had cheated.

He said afterward that he didn't mean to look at a 10-minute videotape of an El Toro High practice session. He said that if former El Toro football player Mark Donohoo were to knock on his door today and offer to play that same tape, Enright would know better. He said he wouldn't have shaded the truth when asked about the incident and his relationship with Donohoo. Wouldn't . . . shouldn't . . . couldn't . . . does it matter?

Enright watched the Donohoo presentation. Enright lied to his school principal about Donohoo. And for whatever reasons, gaining an edge for a high school football game became more important to Enright than personal integrity and sportsmanship.

The pressures are evident. Parents and booster clubs create expectations. Administrators occasionally equate a team's success with a school's success. Coaches try to outdo other coaches.

At last month's El Toro-Capo Valley game, you needed a crowbar to wedge yourself into the bleacher seats. About 7,500 fans attended the game. Boosters sold scarfs for $10 apiece. Extra security guards were hired. A crew from a national cable network was there.

Coaches wore headsets and stood on portable platforms. Players wore uniforms that would be the envy of almost any major college conference. At game's end, the El Toro quarterback wouldn't shake hands with opposing players or coaches. The Capo Valley quarterback issued a subtle taunt to the El Toro coach.

This wasn't for fun; it was for keeps.

When Enright talks earnestly of establishing trust with his players, of offering advice, of lending his friendship, you believe him. "That's the thing you don't get in the pros," he said. "In high school, they're at the crossroads. That's what it's really all about. You're somebody he looks up to. It's a neat deal."

And there's where Enright erred. It's more than a neat deal; it's a responsibility. Since when do you blindly trade that responsibility for 10 minutes of El Toro running a rollout pass, or whatever?

Here's what should have happened:

Knock, knock.

Who is it?


Donohoo, who?

Donohoo, the guy who wants to show you a near-meaningless practice tape of a high school football team. The guy who can compromise your career.

No thank you.

Instead, Enright opened the door. For this, he was suspended by the Southern Section's Executive Committee for the remainder of the 1987 season and the entire 1988 season. He later resigned. His duty at Capo Valley now is to teach physical education.

"I'm exhausted," he said. "I'm worn out. I'll just be a teacher. I mean, people have been super to me. But I just want to get back and see what I can do with my life."

Enright didn't attend the Capo Valley game against Mission Viejo. Didn't think it would be right. He talked about going to the playoff game against Villa Park, maybe even help scout. He is desperately searching for something to fill the void caused by an indiscretion.

"Oh, man, it's been a long time since I went and saw a game," he said. "Let's see . . . I can't even remember when."

It didn't have to be this way. How nice it would have been to see ethics win. What a pleasant change to have found that high school sports can cling to a certain innocence.

Enright said the shame of it all is that he'll be remembered for that 10-minute mistake. The records, the championships . . . poof.

Untrue. They'll always be there, as will a simple lesson: Enright finished first because of hard work, and last because he cheated.

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