A former coach at a local Catholic high school is alleging its athletic director verbally and physically threatened him and devalued the school’s girls’ sports programs.
Neil Spanier, former coach of the St. Monica Catholic High School girls’ basketball team, filed a complaint last month against the school, its athletic director Frank Cruz and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that accuses Cruz of misconduct and alleges the school and archdiocese condoned his actions. Cruz was fired from USC in 2013 for violating NCAA rules that limit how much time athletes can spend in activities directed or supervised by coaches.
St. Monica hired Spanier, a real estate agent, as the girls’ basketball team coach last June. Parents and students said the school and Cruz failed to support the team during the 2017-2018 season, so multiple girls had quit. Multiple parents described Cruz as rude, aggressive and demeaning, according to the complaint.
Spanier spent the summer of 2018 trying to create a positive environment for the remaining members of the team, he said, hiring two assistant coaches, paying for bonding events and running conditioning sessions. Eleven girls committed to play for the team by last October.
Spanier alleges that during that time, Cruz was unwilling to assist with the girls’ program and repeatedly put the boys’ program first. He would become aggressive and hostile toward Spanier during administrative discussions, even threatening to “cancel” the season more than once, according to the complaint.
Cruz became increasingly volatile as the school year continued, often swearing and yelling at him, Spanier alleges. Spanier said Cruz also failed to provide him with the stipend he was promised before he was hired and reimburse him for money he spent on the team, such as thousands of dollars for team uniforms.
When Spanier informed Cruz he would not coach the team beyond the 2018-2019 season, a decision he made because Cruz’s behavior made him uncomfortable, Cruz met with him and aggressively berated him, according to the complaint. Spanier told Cruz he could no longer serve as head coach because of the hostile environment he created, and Cruz screamed curses at him, blocked him from leaving the room and threatened him with physical violence within earshot of students.
A few days later, Spanier emailed Cruz and St. Monica’s principal, James Spellman, relaying what had happened and that he feared for his physical safety and could not continue as the girls’ basketball coach. He also filed a police report with the Santa Monica Police Department and officers met with Spellman.
Spanier alleges St. Monica did not take any action against Cruz, who continues to serve as athletic director. He also alleges the school has been made aware of similar behavior from Cruz toward other adults and students in the past.
The complaint seeks damages for pain and humiliation, as well as money Spanier lost while coaching the team, to be determined at trial.
The archdiocese said in a statement that Spanier and Cruz differed in coaching philosophies and Spanier’s complaint does not allege any misconduct involving St. Monica High School students.
“As this is a personnel matter there is no further information to share,” a spokesperson said.
This article was updated Apr. 9 at 12:45 p.m.