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Open Door PolicyBruce Rollinson Mater Dei High School
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Last spring Sports Illustrated published probably the most selective ranking in all of sports. Of the more than 38,000 high schools in the U.S., fewer than one in a thousand made their listing of the nation’s top 25 athletic programs. Criteria emphasized all-around excellence during the last ten years and included both state titles won and college athletes produced. Ranked #6 on the list was Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA.
Having a tradition of outstanding football teams, Mater Dei is one of three schools that boasts two Heisman Trophy winners – John Huarte (1961) who won the Heisman in 1964 at Notre Dame and Matt Leinart (200l) who captured the award last fall at USC. Leinart and many other high school All-Americans have been coached by Bruce Rollinson, a fixture as head coach at the school for the past 17 years.
Rollinson is a Mater Dei alum (class of ’67) who played for John McKay at USC. While in high school, Rollinson played under legendary coach Dick Coury and has been head coach of the Monarchs since 1989. Twice named National Prep Coach of the Year, Rollinson’s teams have compiled an overall 166-41-2 record. His teams have reached the CIF Division 1 finals eight times in the last 15 years, earning five championships and two national championships (1994 and 1996).
Now in his 17th year as head coach, we spoke with Coach Rollinson in his office. More specifically, we asked him about football at Mater Dei and what it’s like being the mentor of a program rich in tradition.
AFM: What was the feeling like when you were named head coach at Mater Dei, knowing you were now in charge of an outstanding program?
BR: I had been teaching history at Mater Dei and actually coaching at nearby Santa Ana College, a junior college in the area. During a Christmas vacation break I was asked about becoming head coach at Mater Dei by the administration. After the 20 minute or so meeting I was excited and apprehensive, but, being an alum of the school, saw it as a great opportunity, Believe it or not, right afterwards I was stopped for speeding, doing about 63 in a 40mph zone. When I told the policemen my excitement about being named the new football coach at MDHS, he said, ‘all right, this is a warning… get out of here.’ AFM: Do you have an ‘Open Door Policy’ for students and their parents? BR: We really have an ‘Open Door Policy’ and encourage parents as well as our players to visit with us. Many of the parents are concerned about their child’s playing time and we have our position coaches meet with them, often with the offensive or defensive coordinator. I’ll step in and help if it warrants it. We want the players to know we’re here to help them – both athletically and academically as well as how it relates to personal issues. In encouraging the student-athletes to visit with us, we want them to know, as coaches, we’ll tell them exactly what we think. But, more than anything, we want them to know we care and they can trust us. We also encourage them to say it’s okay for them as players to really care for each other. AFM: Over the years have their been any interesting visitors to your office? BR: A number of D I-A coaches have recruited our players over the years but one year I was walking around campus and saw what I thought was a familiar figure helping our maintenance workers unload a truck. As I got closer I realized it was Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr. When I asked him about it, he unassumedly said ‘he thought they could use some help.’ Very unpresumptuous and without any Michigan attire on, we then had a nice visit. AFM: What coaches have influenced you over your career? BR: Certainly Dick Coury and John McKay. I played for Coach Coury, a legendary figure here, while I was a player at Mater Dei. Even though Lynn Swann was in front of me, I played for McKay at USC. My thought is he liked me because I was an overachiever. He had tremendous confidence in his players, great game preparation, and had the ability to always plan ahead in game situations. He believed in his players and they believed in him. He instilled a lot of confidence in us. AFM: What are some of your personal memorabilia and treasured items in your office? BR: There are some CIF plaques behind chairs as well as player photos and framed newspapers. We are moving into an $18 million sports complex next year which will include expanded facilities, a weight room, and more meetings and office space. (Coach Rollinson's number as a player-#3-was retired, mounted, and presented to him in celebration of his 100th win at Mater Dei). AFM: If you were only allowed to take one item, what would it be? BR: My family pictures. AFM: If you could invite three coaches into your office – living or dead – for a football discussion, who would they be? BR: To my left would be Vince Lombardi—I recently read a great book about him and admired him tremendously. Although I’ve never met him, Joe Paterno would be on the list. His coaches have recruited many of our players. I’d like to rotate the third coach’s position – there are so many others I’d like to learn from. AFM: What thoughts or advice would you give to the person that will eventually replace you? BR: When I took over the program some of the great Mater Dei traditions had become dormant…as a player for Coach Coury and now as head coach, I would want my successor to uphold the great traditions of the school that includes great defense and the importance of the three stripes signified on our helmet; that is, pride, poise, and courage. s
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