Home Career Plaschke: Mater Dei’s Bruce Rawlinson shirks responsibility

Plaschke: Mater Dei’s Bruce Rawlinson shirks responsibility


He stood at quarterback in the Rose Bowl, a triumphant figure at the center of the national prep football universe, basking on the precipice of retiring from a long and illustrious career.

Then why not Bruce Rawlinson want to talk about it?

He appeared on one of the final stops of his victory tour on Monday, a last chance to talk about his 34 years of fame, the esteemed Mother of God coach attends a press luncheon ahead of Friday’s Southern Section Division I championship game at the Rose Bowl against Saint John Bosco.

So why doesn’t Bruce Rollinson answer the most obvious questions?

This columnist popped in to ask him about the strange circumstances surrounding his sudden retirement announcement earlier this month. That’s the question being asked throughout the world of prep sports in Southern California and beyond. It has been the subject of rampant speculation and incessant rumours.

Rawlinson could have followed his own doctrine of responsibility by simply providing an explanation.

He refused. He refused to address it. He refused to discuss it. He said he won’t talk about it until after the season.

A man who recently claimed that to retire happily did not ask questions about the pension. Point.

It was just another exclamation point an ugly saga which became even more unattractive. It’s far from a grand farewell, it’s more like a long and bad farewell.

The final chapter was written earlier this month when the 73-year-old Rollinson deflected all the attention from the unwitting players and turned the spotlight on himself by making a massive splash by announcing he was retiring at the end of the season.

He made the announcement just a month after telling a local newspaper that he was returning.

“I can tell you with confidence that I will be back in the 2023 season,” he said Dan Albano of the Orange County Register in October.

He made the announcement midway through the playoffs with the nation’s top-ranked team seemingly headed for its fourth state title in six years.

“I’m close to a lot of these young players and I want to see them get better and better,” he told Albano.

He made the announcement even though nowhere in his five-paragraph retirement announcement does he actually say so why he is retiring.

Nothing about health. Nothing about fatigue. Nothing about spending more time with family.

Rollinson ended a 34-year tenure as perhaps the most influential figure in Southern California sports with no further insight other than, “I recently decided that this year would be my last year as the head football coach at Mater Dei.”

Who does this?

Who is kicked out, that’s who.

There is no concrete evidence for this, but it sounds like it, and the time has come.

a year ago this column called for Rawlinson’s firing as a result of legal proceedings which a vividly depicted case of hazing while exposing the football program’s culture of arrogance, entitlement and callousness regarding student safety.

Initially, Rawlinson kept his job, probably because, as sworn former athletic director Amanda Waters Turns out, school is about image, not integrity, and winning comes first.

But two things could happen that would force Mater Dei to cut ties with the legendary coach and finally separate itself from the scandal.

Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson talks with quarterback Elijah Brown before the Nov. 11 playoff game against JSerra.

(Luca Evans/Los Angeles Times)

First, the school may finally be completing a safety evaluation that began a year ago after a lawsuit that surfaced on video of a former player suffering a traumatic brain injury in the locker room during an allegedly team-sanctioned fight.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Orange did not respond to inquiries about the status of the assessment. His slow pace led to questions about his seriousness. But if student safety is the Diocese of Orange’s true priority, any real evaluation will have Rawlinson’s fingerprints on it.

Second, concerns about the outcome of the assessment may be exacerbated by the apparent monetary settlement of the claim. A notice of settlement was filed in Orange County Superior Court. There’s no indication of the cost of the settlement, but the lawsuit is related to Rollinson’s behavior and has certainly prompted security assessments, none of which look good for the coach.

The most damning evidence of Rawlinson’s tacit approval of a toxic culture can be found in Waters’ previously reported statements that portrayed the coach as complicit and indifferent.

Watch Waters’ testimony about Rollinson’s reaction to her repeated requests to monitor the locker room, where various forms of hazing have become common practice.

“I don’t have time to do this,” Rawlinson told her.

Testimony also included Rawlinson confirming an anti-hazing ritual known as “The Whole.”

“He said, ‘If I had a dollar for every time these kids played Bodies, I’d be a millionaire,'” Waters testified.

There were other allegations of violence under Rollinson’s watch, including an assault charge brought against him in 1989 after Mater Dei’s head athletic trainer accused him of choking her. The misdemeanor trial ended in a jury trial, and Rollinson pleaded no contest to public order. More recently, a 2019 civil lawsuit accused two football players of beating a basketball player at the request of a teammate.

All in all, despite the bright looks of another potential title fight, Rollinson looks set to end his tenure in the dark of controversy. Absent compelling explanation or clarity, he will retire as a great football coach whose unrelenting thirst for championships ultimately endangered his players, his employer and others, a legend Mater Dei simply could not afford to hire.

In the lawsuit, Waters revealed that Rollinson was “excited,” she wanted to talk about the “Bodies” fight, and made it clear that the conversation was over.

“He didn’t like to be challenged,” she said. “If he says what he says and is done with it, he’s going to make it very clear that he’s done with it.”

Rawlinson may not want to talk about his retirement, but Mater Dei and the Diocese of Orange owe it to the community to provide an explanation.

How common was hazing and how can you believe it has stopped? How can you believe that the new coach and culture will be different? How can you trust them with the future if they don’t admit the mistakes of the past?

Still searching for answers on Monday, this columnist asked Mater Dei athletic director Joel Hartman a lingering question.

Bruce Rollinson was forced to retire?

“I believe him when he says it was his choice and his choice alone,” Hartman said.

He may be the only one.

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