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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Move Is a No-Confidence Vote

January 06, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER | Eric Sondheimer is the local sports columnist. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422

It was Jim Fenwick's dream to become football coach at Cal State Northridge. For him to walk away Monday after only one season in favor of taking the position as offensive coordinator at New Mexico is clearly a vote of no confidence in the Northridge athletic program.

"I'm a little dumbfounded because I really believe Jim is a good head coach and would have had success here and could have gone on to another head coach position," said Paul Bubb, Northridge's athletic director.

With four decades of ties to the San Fernando Valley, Fenwick was uniquely qualified to guide the Matador football program to success in Division I-AA. He talked constantly about the "potential" of Northridge.

But worries about possible budget cuts and increasing demands off the field caused him to consider the New Mexico offer made by former UCLA defensive coordinator Rocky Long. Fenwick taking the job is a stunning career move and a coup for Long.

"I was perfectly willing to come back and accept the challenge of building the [Northridge] program," Fenwick said Monday from a college football coaches' convention in Dallas. "But in the coaching profession, my ultimate goal would be to climb as high as I can. Who knows where that is? I did not need any more experience doing the extracurricular things."

In blunt terms, Fenwick wanted to concentrate on coaching rather than worry about fund-raising and lining fields.

"It's going to be his show [on offense]," Long said.

Fenwick, 45, is an expert at combining the run and pass. From Pierce College to Valley College to Northridge, his offensive players have repeatedly produced impressive numbers.

"He's a great offensive mind," said Chicago Bears quarterback Erik Kramer, who played for Fenwick at Pierce. "I'm sad seeing him leave this area. He wanted to build Northridge's program bigger than it had ever been."

Long had been trying to convince Fenwick to come with him for several weeks.

"I was forced to make the decision," Fenwick said. "I may fall on my face and may realize I'm not cut out to be [a I-A offensive coordinator] and go back and look for a junior college or high school job. But I need to find out."

The question is, where does Northridge go from here? Unlike when Coach Dave Baldwin left for San Jose State after the 1996 season, there is no logical successor.

Baldwin and Fenwick were able to use their knowledge and local ties to build loyalty and support. The next coach won't have such a luxury.

"I think you need a unique individual," Baldwin said. "Financially, you can't get it done, but if you outwork people in the Valley, you can get it done. I'm sure there will be a million people to apply."

Mike Kramer, Eastern Washington's coach, seems like a good candidate. He reportedly was interested in the Northridge job the last time it opened. And Kramer recently guided his team to the Big Sky Conference title. But he says he's staying in Cheney.

It is unlikely Northridge would hire a high school coach, but Bill Redell is someone to consider. Redell, 56, has coached at St. Francis and Crespi, coached two years in the United States Football League and at Cal State Fullerton.

He also is chief executive officer of an insurance company with a $1 million budget.

The high school to Division I-AA move has been made successfully before. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo went 10-1 in 1997 with Larry Welsh, the former Atascadero High coach, in charge.

Whatever happens, Fenwick will be missed. The Valley is losing a man of integrity and a great teacher of football.

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