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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Crespi Football Goes Bad and It Could Get Worse

October 08, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

Ron Gueringer called his hiring as football coach at Crespi High in 1999 a "dream job."

He feels the same way today.

"I'd like to be at Crespi for a long time," he said.

But Gueringer will be out as coach in five weeks if you believe the whispers circulating among alumni and the "no comment" responses coming from school administrators.

Crespi is 0-5 and almost certain to finish 0-10, which would be the worst record in school history. His two-year record is 1-14.

It's a sad, stunning turnaround for a program that won the Southern Section Division I championship in 1986, the only time a school from the San Fernando Valley has accomplished such a feat.

What's gone wrong?

For one, look at all the former Crespi players starting for other schools--Michael Luderer and Jimmy Sharp at Notre Dame, Joe Lemma at Westlake, Kenny Baker, Jason Lance and Chad Calvert at Alemany.

The top player on Granada Hills' freshman-sophomore team is Kevin Crane, star receiver on last season's Crespi freshman team that went 10-0. Set to make his varsity debut as a sophomore at Valencia in a couple of weeks is Charles Burnley, another member of last year's Crespi freshman team.

All insist football was not the primary reason for leaving Crespi.

Want more bad news?

Crespi has only nine seniors on its roster. Last year, there were eight seniors. In comparison, Mission League rivals Notre Dame, Chaminade and St. Francis have 24, 19 and 22 seniors, respectively, on their rosters this season.

The failure to keep players involved in the football program from the time they arrive as freshmen through their senior year has reached a crisis stage. In 1997, Crespi had 43 players on its freshman roster. There are only seven still playing in the program as seniors.

Anyone who thinks the blame for Crespi's collapse falls solely on Gueringer is mistaken.

Because of transfers and the lack of seniors coming out for football, Crespi has been using mostly junior varsity players the last two seasons against varsity competition. It is a mismatch of vast proportions.

"I don't think there's any coach who could have done a better job with the situation he's been handed," Gueringer said.

But Gueringer has failed in one major responsibility: Recruiting Crespi's seniors to play football. It hasn't been from lack of trying over 18 months as coach. He's a frequent visitor to basketball, baseball and other school events, showing support and hoping for reciprocation. He has been ignored. Top athletes from other sports who once played football like baseball players Jonathan Oller and Dustin Slade haven chosen not to come out.

Gueringer accepted a no-win situation when he was hired. There haven't been enough players to field a junior varsity team the last two seasons, forcing him to play 15-year-olds against 18-year-olds.

"The problem is we have a lot of kids who physically aren't ready to play at this level," he said. "It's no knock on the kids. It's the truth."

Gueringer understands that as losses mount, his status becomes more tenuous in the minds of many.

"You're never going to make everybody happy and there always has to be a scapegoat," he said. "If I am, so be it. Every place I've been, I've been competitive and a winner. I will survive and Crespi football will survive."

Principal David Doyle said Gueringer will remain coach through the rest of the season but declined comment on his future other than to say he will undergo a "reevaluation" as every coach does.

Alumni speculate that former defensive coordinator Troy Thomas will be Gueringer's replacement. Thomas, a Crespi graduate who helped Westlake win the Southern Section Division IV championship last season, is serving as a graduate assistant at Fresno State but didn't apply for the Crespi position in 1999, perhaps realizing what he might be getting himself into.

Gueringer deserves credit for taking on a job with little chance of immediate success. He has tried to make sure his players don't quit or lose their hunger to succeed.

"Let's give these guys credit," Gueringer said. "The kids who stepped on the field this year have gone through a lot of duress. I'm proud of them."

Said sophomore linebacker Jeff Asher: "We're still excited, we're still keeping our heads up, we're still trying."

Gueringer said he's not ready to leave the Encino campus.

"I think we can change this deal, but it's not going to happen overnight," he said. "If I'm given the time, Crespi will be back on top."

If these are the final five games in Gueringer's career at Crespi, he has a rare teaching opportunity.

Dealing with adversity is no easy task. His leadership will be crucial if his young players are to maintain focus and not give up hope in a time of turmoil.

The worst season in Crespi history was 1984, when the Celts went 0-9-1. Two years later, under a new coach, Bill Redell, Crespi became Southern Section champions with a 13-1 record.

It doesn't take long to revitalize a troubled program when coaches, administrators, players and parents work together to fix the problems.

"If this team sticks together for a year or two, it will change," Asher said.

Crespi has enough talented young players to reverse its losing ways if it finds someone who can unite the different factions and inspire the student body.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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