A Nevada Union committee headed by Principal Mike Blake has recommended Dennis Houlihan for its varsity football head coaching job, and the school board will vote on that recommendation at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.
As a coach, Houlihan brings experience, familiarity and a few question marks.
Houlihan was NU’s junior varsity head coach last season, leading the team to a 5-5 record. He played football for Nevada Union until 1989 under the tutelage of Randy Blankenship and even topped 1,000 yards as a running back in his junior year.
After graduating from the University of La Verne in California, Houlihan again linked up with Blankenship as an assistant coach, first at Clovis West, then at Fallbrook High School in San Diego.
“He kind of groomed me to be a head coach,” Houlihan said of Blankenship, with whom he coached two section championship teams, one at Clovis West and another at Fallbrook.
It was after Blankenship left Fallbrook in 2001 that Houlihan took over as head coach. He led the Warriors until 2006, when he resigned amid allegations of inappropriate use of booster funds, according to a May 25, 2006, article in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
According to the Union-Tribune story, allegations of improper expenditures by the Fallbrook High football booster club were referred to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department after the Fallbrook school district found an ATM withdrawal of $164.95 at a brothel in Nevada, among other questionable transactions on a booster club debit card. No charges were against filed Houlihan.
Debit card and travel records show that Houlihan traveled from Los Angeles to Reno that weekend via Alaska Airlines and rented a car Nov. 25-27, 2005, in Reno, according to the Union-Tribune. Purchases for his air travel ($253.40) and rental car ($87.51) were on the debit records, categorized as coaches expenses. The debit card records also show a withdrawal in Carson City at 9:45 p.m. Nov. 25, 2005, for $282 — hours before the withdrawal at the brothel. It also was categorized as “Coaches Expenses: Clinics.”
Houlihan and four of his assistants resigned their coaching positions at Fallbrook High; Houlihan did remain on the teaching staff.
At the time, Houlihan said he resigned due to a lack of support from the school’s administration stemming from the district’s investigation into the alleged improprieties.
Houlihan said he was placed on paid administrative leave for two weeks in late March and early April 2006 while school officials looked into the matter, but said he was cleared. After he returned to work, Houlihan said he asked officials to issue a public statement saying he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. No statement was issued, according to the Union-Tribune.
Houlihan told The Union he expects some backlash stemming from his past but that he has had an overwhelming show of support from the local football community.
“To be honest, I’ve had a lot of community support,” Houlihan said. “They see me for who I am and not for what they read. I come back 20 years later and people still know me. It’s warm. It’s home. It’s where I feel safe.”
As to the allegations of inappropriate use of booster funds, Houlihan said, “There was an allegation, there was an investigation, and nothing came of it. Mistakes were made (on both sides), and I’m a better person because of it.”
Blake said he was aware of how Houlihan’s prior head coaching stint ended but wasn’t concerned due to how Houlihan has since proven himself.
“He admitted he made a lapse in judgment and accepted responsibility,” Blake said. “We all make mistakes, and the important thing is that Dennis has not repeated his … I believe we are recommending the best candidate for the job.”
Blake, joined by NU athletic director Steve Pilcher and other committee members Kelly Rhoden, Mitch Giles, Sharon Hill, Curtis Smith and Dan Frisella, made the recommendation after a series of interviews with potential coaches Friday.
Blake said the decision was based on three factors.
“His passion that he displayed for the program, he definitely knows the wing-T, and finally, he is totally committed,” he said.
Former coach Dave Humphers, who retired after 22 seasons last month, said he backs the recommendation and that NU is lucky to have Houlihan.
“I’m thrilled for Dennis, and I’m really happy for our football program,” he said. “I’m confident Dennis will do a great job. He’s one of ours — grew up in this community — and he’s a good teacher and a great coach.”
Houlihan’s father is a former Nevada Union athletic director.
The final step to Houlihan getting the job will be getting the board’s approval Wednesday morning.
If the board approves Houlihan he will be considered an off-campus coach. Houlihan currently works at Charis House, an educational and residential youth center that caters to emotionally disturbed adolescents, according to http://charisyouthcenter.org.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I believe we are recommending the best candidate for the job.”
— NU principal Mike blake,
on Miners football head coach candidate Dennis Houlihan