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Matadors Stung by Events

College football: Northridge players, assistants react strongly to reports of shake-ups on coaching staff.

July 03, 1999|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ and VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORTHRIDGE — Cal State Northridge football players, assistant coaches and recruits on Friday reacted strongly to reports that Coach Ron Ponciano's job is in jeopardy and offensive coordinator Rob Phenicie is leaving the program.

"If Coach Ponciano is fired or leaves, I'm leaving too," sophomore quarterback Marcus Brady said. "I'm going to transfer to another school. I'm done with Northridge."

Ponciano said he is meeting next week with administrators to discuss his future with the program, which has been under investigation for alleged rules violations.

The players, who were mostly unaware of Phenicie's departure and Ponciano's uncertain status, got word at a Thursday night meeting attended by about 45 team members.

Ponciano took over the program last year, guiding the Matadors to a 7-4 record, 5-3 in Big Sky Conference play.

With Brady, an All-Big Sky selection as a redshirt freshman last year, leading the high-octane run-and-shoot offense and complemented by many talented returners and the school's best recruiting class, the Matadors seemed poised for unprecedented success.

But the turmoil is shaking a program with a tradition of instability and upsetting some Matadors.

"[Ponciano and Phenicie] are guilty until proven innocent because of an anonymous letter?" said Aaron Flowers, quarterbacks coach and holder of most Northridge passing records. "I don't want to work for anyone else and the kids don't want to play for anyone else."

Some, like recruit Marquis Brignac and senior running back Jaumal Bradley, were equally surprised by the developments but said they were committed to playing at Northridge.

"It matters who the coach is, but whoever the coach is, I'm going to play football and do my best," said Brignac, a running back from Taft High who was the City Section co-player of the year last season.

"I was looking forward to playing for [Ponciano]. But if we get a new coach, it's not going to make that big a difference."

Bradley, Northridge's top rusher last season with 374 yards, called the events "shocking, a bombshell," but remained optimistic.

"I believe in the program, I believe in Ponciano," Bradley said. "For some, it's going to be a reason to quit. For others, it's going to be way beyond a gut check."

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