SAMOHI — High school sports can be a cruel mistress for coaches.
When teams are losing everything is their fault and ironically winning doesn’t cure every ill.
That’s the difficult lesson Santa Monica High School’s Rob Duron learned during a turbulent season that began with great promise but ended with the embattled head coach’s resignation from the position.
Duron made the decision to step down on Thursday just two days after his Vikings were eliminated from the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section playoffs. He didn’t make a show of it, he simply went to Athletic Director Norm Lacy’s office and turned in his keys and left a note informing his boss of his intentions.
While the vibe around the team has been spiked with a good deal of criticism toward the coach from parents, players and even alumni, Duron was reluctant to admit that it forced his hand in making the decision. The pressure mounted due to the fact that pitcher Tyler Skaggs drew the eyes of college and pro scouts, who pegged him as an early MLB draft pick, creating a circus-like atmosphere around the team. Some parents complained that their kids were not getting enough playing time thus limiting their exposure to the scouts who were there for the star hurler.
As he’s done throughout the season, Duron put the blame for the team’s shortcomings on his own shoulders.
“I didn’t get the job done,” Duron said late Thursday afternoon. “We had three goals: Winning league, 20 victories and a CIF title.
“We didn’t get any of them.”
The Vikings may not have reached those lofty goals, but the season was far from a wash. Samohi finished the season 18-15 overall and 6-4 in Ocean League play and won a pair of playoff games as well as a one-game playoff with Hawthorne to earn a postseason berth.
Duron gives much of the credit for the team’s success to the players and leaves with few regrets. He said that even in defeat his team managed to stay in nearly every contest as evidenced by the team’s four one-run losses.
“We had chances to win and we didn’t do it,” Duron said of close games. “We had dog fights just to get here.”
Lacy said that he was somewhat surprised by Duron’s departure yet added that he was reviewing the program following a number of complaints he received from parents which included claims of verbal abuse. A number of parents went as far as circulating a petition calling for Duron’s ouster.
“It is unfortunate,” Lacy said of the situation. “Bottom line, it is high school sports. This is not the professionals. We don’t pay our coaches much of anything and (coaches) put in a tremendous amount of time.
“This frustrates me.”
He praised Duron’s dedication to the team going as far as to say that “he gave the kids everything that he could.”
Aside from dealing with parent complaints — a common fact of high school coaching — Duron said that the amount of time necessary to do the job also played a factor.
“It’s a lot of time and effort,” Duron said. “But, in the end, if I’m not getting it done it’s my fault.”
Duron’s decision took a few players by surprise.
Freshman Adam Padilla, who was called up to varsity midway through the season, said that some of the complaints about the coach went a little too far at times. He said Duron was a good coach who “wasn’t as bad as people made him out to be.”
He added that the coach could be hard on his players at times, but he didn’t do so with malicious intent.
“He punished people when it needed to be done and some people took it the wrong way,” Padilla said. “Nothing was personal.”
Junior Alonzo Gonzalez echoed Padilla’s sentiment adding “we had a good run this season and I commend him for that.”
As for the next coach, Padilla said that he would like somebody who can take the team all the way to a championship, but that person should also be able to develop a cooperative chemistry with his players both on and off the field, something he said Duron had a problem establishing.
Lacy hasn’t set a time table for finding a replacement, but said that he wants to get it done sooner than later. He would like the next coach to be a teacher as well, but said that decision would have to come within the context of the current budget crunch in the district. He said that there are candidates on campus and will be begin taking applications soon.
Duron’s resignation will surely be good news for the most vocal of Duron’s detractors, but there are some who supported the coach.
“I feel bad for the guy,” Liane Curtis, pitcher Logan Whitchurch’s mother, said. “In a lot of ways the fact that he was so bullheaded set him up to fail.
“It was his way or the highway.”
Curtis said that she declined to sign petitions seeking the coach’s firing because she felt that it would only serve to fuel the fire.
“It wasn’t going to help,” Curtis said. “It was just creating conflict between parent, child and coach.
“It was insane. It makes for a crazy-minded team.”
Former Samohi coach Kevin Brockway, who left to be an assistant coach at West L.A. College two years ago, believes that Duron did the best job he could “with the hand he was dealt.”
“I don’t care what school you are going to, everybody has an opinion,” Brockway said. “That’s baseball.”
He added that everybody is entitled to their opinion, but said that it got out of hand at Samohi. Brockway experienced his share of parental complaints while he was the Vikings’ coach but he tried to take care of it in-house instead of through the local papers.