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Santa Margarita High Sacks Coaches Convicted of Pot Charge

One week after defending a decision to keep them on staff, the school fires Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks after learning more about their role in a pot-growing operation.

The other shoe dropped at Santa Margarita Catholic High School late Thursday as the school announced it had fired two assistant coaches for their role in a marijuana growing operation. 

School President Paul Carey and Principal Ray Dunne sent a letter to parents and, in seemingly transparent terms, explained what transpired over the past year. The new letter comes less than a week after despite pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession in September.

The new letter said the school and the Diocese of Orange didn't have all the facts until now. 

Coen, Hendricks and another man, St. Margaret's line coach Charles Spann, admitted guilt Sept. 15 as part of a plea bargain to avoid going to trial for two felony counts, one for cultivation of marijuana, and one for possession for sale of marijuana. The three men lived in a San Juan Capistrano residence where sheriff's deputies discovered an extensive marijuana growing system in the garage. The raid netted three mature plants, 229 immature plants, 32 pot clones, five bags of dried marijuana totaling more than a pound, a "pay-owe" ledger listing medical marijuana dispensaries, and a lighting and watering system.

The school indicated that a noise complaint at the residence led to the discovery of the pot operation on Dec. 14, 2010. The coaches pleaded guilty nine months later, but the school didn't find out about Coen's involvement until Oct. 3, when the diocese received an alert that it had an employee convicted of a crime.

The school said it didn't hear about Hendricks, a walk-on coach, until Nov. 4.

Coen, a full-time employee, coached receivers and defensive backs; Hendricks handled receivers. They continued in their roles through the last game of the season on Dec. 16. The Eagles (12-2) won the Southern Section Pac-5 championship and the Division I State Bowl.

On Dec. 12, the school said, it received a call from the Orange County District Attorney's office and "subsequent news reports" led to an internal investigation by the school. The original investigation was conducted by the diocese, which ordered Santa Margarita to place Coen on unpaid administrative leave as a coach and from his position as the assistant coordinator of strength and conditioning.

According to the letter, Coen and Hendricks did not tell head coach Harry Welch, or any athletic or school administrators about their arrest. 

"Based on the facts we gathered in our investigation, the school is immediately terminating both Mr.Coen, who is a full-time employee, and Mr. Hendricks, who is a walk-on coach," the letter to parents said.  

Here's the letter in its entirety:

Dear Parents of SMCHS:  

On Friday, 23 December we sent you an email regarding the issue of two SM football coaches who plead guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. The purpose of our contacting you today is found in the final two lines of that email: "This situation remains under review. You can be assured that further appropriate action will be taken by the school as necessary." We have engaged in further inquiry into the circumstances surrounding this situation which included additional interviews with the two coaches and others along with a review of court documents. We would now like to share our findings.  

On December 14, 2010 the two coaches, Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks, were living in San Juan Capistrano with a football coach from another high school. On that December day a little over a year ago, sheriff's department officers arrived at the apartment because of a noise complaint. According to information from the Orange County District Attorney's office a marijuana cultivation system was found in the garage along with plants, dried marijuana and a notebook that served as a "pay-owe" ledger listing medical marijuana dispensaries. None of the three were taken into custody that evening but were told that they may be contacted by the Orange County District Attorney's office. They later received a letter informing them that they were being charged with three felonies.  

In their first court appearance they pled 'not guilty' and a number of postponements followed. The three men were in court on September 15, 2011 and were offered a plea agreement by the D.A.'s office. The charges would be dropped to misdemeanors and ninety days jail time. At a later appearance the court supported their request to be placed in the work furlough program in lieu of jail time.  

On November 14, 2011 they reported to the OC Jail and went through the booking process. After being interviewed they were accepted into a work furlough program and both Mr.Coen and Mr. Hendricks are currently working in two Orange County locations.  

There are some very important points that go along with the above information. After sentencing on September 15th, an automatic reporting system first notified the Diocese that there had been court action. On Monday, October 3, 2011 the school was asked to have Mr. Coen report to the Diocese for questioning. The school was instructed to place him on administrative leave while they conducted an investigation. On October 10, 2011 the school received official notification that Coach Coen was permitted to return to his duties. Subsequent notification about Coach Hendricks came on November 4, 2011. Let us assure you that the school did not know anything about this situation until the October date.  

A December 12th phone call to Mr. Carey from the District Attorney's office along with subsequent news reports led to an internal investigation and our preliminary email to parents and staff December 23rd. In our internal investigation we found that sound judgment was not exercised by either man in allowing marijuana to be grown in their garage. When one is charged with the responsibility of working with teenagers who are constantly in a society where the temptation of marijuana is prevalent, these coaches had a responsibility to utilize sound judgment. Mr. Coen and Mr. Hendricks had every opportunity prior to and after September 15th to inform their head coach, the athletic administration or the school's administration of the facts surrounding their case and neither did so. Based on the facts we gathered in our investigation the school is immediately terminating both Mr.Coen, who is a full-time employee, and Mr. Hendricks who is a walk-on coach.  

The integrity of Santa Margarita Catholic High School and the welfare of our students are of paramount importance to us and we pledge that we will do everything possible to prevent this type of incident from occurring again and we will be vigilant in honoring the trust you have placed in us. We hold our students to high ethical and moral standards and expect the same of our staff. When one is involved in the education of youth there has to be a higher standard to which you are called.  

This incident has overshadowed what should be a time of celebration for our school. It is very important that we concentrate on the young men of the 2011 Eagle Varsity football team and remember that they recently completed a truly fantastic season capped by a CIF and State championship. For their hard work and dedication they rightfully should be celebrated. Not only are they outstanding young men but they are excellent examples of the type of students that typify Santa Margarita Catholic High School.  

Thank you for choosing Santa Margarita Catholic and entrusting the school with the privilege of providing your sons and daughters a Catholic education. Santa Margarita will continue to remain an institution where character building and moral development are a vital part of the educational experience.  

Sincerely,  

Raymond R. Dunne Principal  

Paul Carey President

S. December 30, 2011 at 07:15 AM
The coaches should have been terminated back in October. Even if the diocese or the school didn't know anything until October (and November for the 2nd coach), in October they did find that the employee had pled guilty to a crime of posessing mariujuana. If this school truly believes everything they just said in their latest letter to parents, it would seem they would have fired, or at least put them on administrative leave, when they found out they had pled guilty. It sounds to me like they waited until their football team finished all the games and won the championship before they got rid of the coaches. Is winning football games more important to them than the moral example they are setting for the students?
Marci Sparks December 30, 2011 at 06:09 PM
I was just thinking this morning how sad to hear that they kept the coaches on the staff. I am relieved that they are no longer with the school. That is the right thing to do.
V. Duvall December 30, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Maybe the Church should do better background checks on the people they hire. With this and the issue at JSerra they don't seem to be doing very well with their choices. Pay more attention to these issues instead of fundraising. Looks like they are batting zero on staffing issues.
Sharon Thompson December 30, 2011 at 06:40 PM
Is this another example of sports being so important that criminal behavior was let slide? Think of Penn State? When will something be done about all this worship of sports at every level? I pray for all the staff, students and parents who will make adjustments after these 2 men were fired and for very good reason. Something good will come of this because the right thing was done by the Diocese and school officials. I'm not a Catholic but understand how painful this is for everyone at SMCS. Keep the faith and stand strong so that evil cannot prevail. I have great admirations for SMCS and the wonderful young people schooled there. Following their successes is a blessing.
Mike Proctor January 02, 2012 at 06:40 PM
My thoughts exactly S.
Mike Proctor January 02, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Funny, "the right thing was done" "the Diocese did the right thing".......is it still "right", when the "Right Thing" was done after the fact. After the gains of a Championship....I don't buy it, "the school and the Diocese didn't have all the facts, until now". BS Its sad that schools, administrators, coaches and teachers will turn a blind eye to criminal behavior when it comes to the glory of winning. IMO, its a black eye for SMCH's sports programs, but in the end, all will be systems normal.
Pat Bradford January 26, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Win at all cost

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