Harry Welch, the Santa Margarita Catholic football coach who has been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 20, was reinstated by the school on Wednesday. A letter from school President Paul Carey and Principal Ray Dunne explained Welch's return to parents.
Welch was investigated by the Orange County Sheriff Department for an incident on Dec. 13 in which he allegedly pushed or shoved a player, but the Orange County District Attorney declined to press charges against the coach, whose team won a Southern Section Pac-5 and CIF State Bowl Championship in only his second season at the helm. The program is 22-5 under him after going 6-14 in two seasons prior to his arrival.
Here is the contents of the letter to parents from Carey and Dunne:
As you may be aware, Coach Harry Welch has been on administrative leave pending a joint review of a situation reported by a parent to the Principal's office. School administration, diocesan officials and local law enforcement have reviewed this matter. That comprehensive review has resulted in returning Coach Welch to his position and duties as Head Football Coach. The safety of our students was paramount in our review and will always remain our first consideration. While some of you may wish to know the details of the report, review, results and conditions of his return to duties, because of the laws of the State of California which protect the privacy rights of employees, neither the school administration nor diocesan officials are at liberty to provide any further detail. This is a protection that belongs to the employee who is not obligated to waive it. We assure you that the actions taken by the school administration and the diocese in this matter were taken to protect our students from risk.
Since winning the championships, the school has had an active offseason in ways it would just as soon forget. Two coaches, Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks, were fired after it was learned they had pleaded guilty to a marijuana possession charge during the season, but only after it became public that it was a plea deal from two felonies; Welch was investigated after an anonymous tip that he had assaulted a player in a classroom environment, though the victim didn't want to press charges; and a golf coach, Kevin Orton, who also coached junior varsity football, was arrested for allegedly being under the influence and possession of cocaine.
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Though Welch was cleared by the district attorney, the school didn't return him immediately to his position, instead conducting its own review in conjunction with the Catholic Diocese of Orange.
Welch is one of the most successful coaches in the Southern Section, and when Santa Margarita defeated San Jose Bellarmine on Dec. 16, it was for him a third state title in six years with three different schools. He also won Bowl championships with Canyon Country Canyon and St. Margaret's.