Two football coaches from Santa Margarita Catholic High – and another from St. Margaret's Episcopal – coached most of the recently completed season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession, a move that enabled them to avoid going to trial on felony charges.
Although the story wasn't publicized until after the season, Santa Margarita officials knew about the case and, in a recent letter to parents, defended letting the varsity assistant coaches stay on the job, on grounds that the men didn't seem to be involved in using or selling marijuana.
Sean Patrick Coen and Robert Raymond Hendricks helped coach Santa Margarita during its run to the Southern Section Pac-5 and Division I State Bowl championships.
Charles Christopher Spann was an assistant football coach at St. Margaret's, which reached the second round of the East Valley playoffs. He is still listed on the coaching roster at the school's website.
According to Orange County District Attorney spokeswoman Farrah Emami, the men lived in a San Juan Capistrano residence that had a marijuana cultivation system in the garage with three mature marijuana plants, 229 immature plants and 32 marijuana clones—plus a lighting and watering system, a notebook that served as a "pay-owe" ledger listing medical marijuana dispensaries, and five 1-gallon bags of dried marijuana weighing slightly more than 1 pound.
The story was originally reported Dec. 22 by the Orange County Register, which had also followed Santa Margarita's football team through a weekly Internet video feature called Hard Knocks on the newspaper's OCVarsity prep sports website. Coen, who coached receivers and defensive backs, was featured prominently on the show during its 17-week run, including the final episode about the team's 42-37 victory on Dec. 16 over San Jose Bellarmine. That video posted earlier on the same day the Register reported the marijuana story.
Hendricks, a walk-on coach, worked with receivers for the Eagles.
Spann, also known as Chachi, played at Canyon Country's Canyon High School for current Santa Margarita head coach Harry Welch when he coached there. He was hired in 2010 as an offensive and defensive line coach at St. Margaret's.
Welch left Canyon after the 2006 season and became coach at St. Margaret's, where he remained through the 2009 season.
According to Superior Court records, Coen, Hendricks and Spann were arrested Dec. 14, 2010, and each charged with one felony count of cultivation of marijuana, and one felony count of possession for sale of marijuana. On Sept. 15, 2011—the day the Eagles turned in a rather lackluster performance against Trabuco Hills in Game 3—they each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana in excess of 28.5 grams, and one infraction for possession of marijuana less than 28.5 grams.
They were sentenced to 90 days in jail with the option of instead serving in a community work program (which they chose), making a $500 donation to the Victim Wellness Emergency Fund, and 18 months probation. After completing the sentence, they can apply to have the misdemeanor removed from their record, although the infraction will remain.
Welch on Wednesday told Patch he had been instructed to direct all inquiries to the Diocese of Orange, which did not return a phone call. Welch previously told the Register, "They are assistant coaches in good standing with the school, with me and with the diocese."
Principal Ray Dunne said previously that the two Santa Margarita coaches were disciplined when the school became aware of the conviction, but he declined to elaborate because it was a personnel issue.
The school has since sent a letter to parents from Dunne and Santa Margarita President Paul Carey about the incident:
At Santa Margarita Catholic High, teaching our students to live a healthy lifestyle is part of our expected schoolwide learning results (ESLRs). We were disappointed to learn of circumstances involving two of our assistant varsity football coaches who were convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. The court findings confirm these men were not involved in growing or selling marijuana. There is a related story in this morning’s edition of The Orange County Register and online at OC Varsity.
For the record, Mr. Sean Coen is a full time employee as well as coach at the school and Mr. Robert Hendricks is a walk-on coach.
The matter of Mr. Coen was brought to the attention of the Diocese of Orange earlier this school year. The Diocesan Director of Human Resources contacted the school and asked us to have Coach Coen immediately report to the Diocese. Coach Coen was placed on unpaid administrative leave from his position as Assistant Coordinator of Strength & Conditioning as well as from his duties as an assistant football coach, pending a review of the situation by the Diocesan Human Resources Department with reporting to the Superintendent of Schools. Mr.Coen immediately reported to the Diocese and remained on administrative leave while the situation was reviewed.
Based on factual information gathered in the review, Mr. Coen was permitted to remain a full time employee provided he completed his required service but with the expressed understanding that any further such incidences would result in immediate dismissal.
We have spoken with a number of people familiar with the football staff and did not discern any evidence of either man being involved with use or sale of marijuana.
We assure you the safety of your sons and daughters is of paramount importance to us. Had there been evidence of direct involvement by these assistant coaches in growing and/or sale of marijuana they would not have remained in any capacity at SMCHS.
We remain confident that these two men have learned from this experience and we hope it will help them in making wise choices in the future. This situation remains under review. You can be assured that further appropriate action will be taken by the school as necessary.
Raymond R. Dunne, Principal
Paul M. Carey, President