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Pierce Revivalist : Urge to Return to Football Moved College, New Coach Bob Enger

December 31, 1987|RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writer

When someone gets talked into accepting a job, it's usually by a spouse or a friend or a small group of close and trusted colleagues and confidants. Bob Enger was talked into accepting his current job by 53,319 screaming lunatics, half of whom were drinking beer at the time.

Enger, 52, was minding his own business, comfortable in his position as an instructor in the business department of East Los Angeles College. He had coached football for much of his life, at East L. A., Cal State L. A. and a few high schools, but those days were over.

He had not been on a sideline in nearly five years when he left his home on the morning of Oct. 17 and headed for the Rose Bowl, where he would watch his alma mater, UCLA, take on the waddling Ducks of Oregon. No big deal. He had season tickets and had gone to most home games over the past few years.

But this one was different. On the way into the Rose Bowl he bumped into an old friend and former assistant coach from East L. A., John Farhood, now the dean of admissions at Pierce College. Farhood had asked Enger a few months earlier if he might be interested in reviving and coaching the defunct football team at Pierce, and Enger laughed.

"I just had no interest at that time," he said. "But in hindsight, I guess John planted the seed that day."

As they walked up a tunnel into the Rose Bowl, Farhood told Enger that the vacancy at Pierce, which along with budgetary problems had left the school without a football team for the past two seasons, still existed.

This time, Enger did not laugh.

"He told me they really wanted to get the program going again, but they were having trouble finding a coach," Enger said. "He asked again if I might be interested, and this time I told him, 'Could be.' "

Throughout the game, Enger kept one eye on the field as UCLA whomped Oregon. His other eye was on his future. And the tens of thousands of bellowing fans who sat in the stands that day convinced Enger that his future involved cleats and shoulder pads.

"I sat there with all those people and really got caught up in all the rah-rah," Enger said. "All my old feelings returned. The bottom line was that I missed coaching. Maybe it was male menopause. But right there I made up my mind to give it another shot."

Enger called Farhood a few days later and gave him the news. Farhood gave him the job. And now all Enger has to do is find a few assistant coaches to help him. Oh, and some football players.

"Coaches are the first priority," he said. "I've already hired four but I need a few more. When I get everyone in place, then we'll turn to recruiting. We've got to find the right athletes to rebuild this program. By mid-January I will have a list of the kids I want and then we'll start bringing them to the campus. We've already had a big reaction from guys who are already at Pierce, and I think that perhaps 15 or 20 of the guys who are already here will be part of our football team."

The assistants Enger has signed up are John Pentecost, a former line coach at Burroughs High in Burbank; Paul Sabolic, another former line coach, from North Hollywood High; Tony Cleveland, a former coach at Pater Noster and Taft highs; and Leo Castro, who has coached at Kennedy, Cleveland and Taft highs.

The past two seasons, Glendale has either won or shared the Western State Conference title, but before then Pierce had built one of the most successful junior college football programs in the state under Coach Jim Fenwick. The Brahmas were the most dominant local JC football team for three consecutive years before the program suddenly was disbanded in 1986 because of what school officials said was a lack of money. The departure of Fenwick, who moved to Cal State Northridge as an assistant coach, aided the program's slide to oblivion.

What ensued was two years of trying to untangle educational red tape, which seemed only to prove that higher education is not the same as common sense. Pierce might have fielded a team for the 1987 season; the school came up with the money needed and even found a head coach quickly.

A simple solution to the problem was at hand. Except that the coach they wanted, Steve Butler, was an assistant football coach, women's volleyball coach and a physical education teacher at West Los Angeles College. And even though that school also had shelved its football team, the Los Angeles Community College District would not allow Butler to transfer. District officials insisted that the two schools must exchange personnel from the physical education departments, much like completing a major league baseball trade.

When no suitable, or willing, physical education faculty member at Pierce was found to replace Butler at West L. A., the deal fell apart and the 1987 season went down the drain.

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