Wearing an El Camino College T-shirt because he still hasn’t officially become the head coach at St. Bernard pending a mandatory final background check, Manuel Douglas sat in the football office adjacent to the St. Bernard field answering questions on Monday for 45 minutes about the turmoil at his former school, Harbor City Narbonne.
He resigned from Narbonne last week after winning eight City Section titles. He reached agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School to dismiss a lawsuit he filed. He was suspended and reassigned to his home at the end of May while the LAUSD investigated an allegation of academic misconduct involving a student and two staff members. The football program soon became a target and the City Section banned the team from the 2019 playoffs and took away the 2018 City title because of ineligible players.
Douglas said no former players from Narbonne will be joining him at St. Bernard because it would not be a good look to have players following him. He said top assistants Brandon Manumaleuna and Tim Kaub would be among the few to join him.
You’ve been silent for nine months as the LAUSD investigated your football program. What can you say to clarify things?
“I keep reading these articles that I was removed linked in to academic misconduct. I have never been accused of academic misconduct or grade changing. That had nothing to do with it. If that was also being investigated, that is aside from me completely. I’ve been constantly labeled as being involved in that and have never been questioned or were in any way involved. Honestly, for nine months I haven’t wanted to talk. I’ve moved on. It is what it is. We had a phenomenal run. There’s a bunch of rumors that we were illegally recruiting kids. I heard I paid $10,000 for a player with a personal check. None of those things happened. The kids that caused the forfeit, they didn’t live where they said they lived. All those kids were vetted by the district in August before the season. For them to go to week 10 and check addresses, that is OK. Because if they say they live there, they should live there. The bottom line is all those kids were 3.0 and better and weren’t academically ineligible. People keep saying that to tie in we were running a program that paid for grades or bullied teachers for grades. We never did that. And those guys were there after I was gone, which really sucks. I feel if I had been there we would have caught it.”
What responsibility will you accept for the collapse of your program that you spent so much time and effort to build up?
“I don’t know what to say. If I could go backwards in time, the thing that I would accept responsibility for is be a little more engaging with the rest of the school instead of just doing things for the program. I didn’t really care what was happening with the school at the time. We created a lot of animosity and jealousy because the football team had the best of everything. Do I think now looking back did that hurt me? Absolutely. Would I do it that way now? I would try not to. I would be more school inclusive and have players more engaging with the school.”
Any regrets or lessons learned from the last nine months?
“I always flew low, tried to keep my head down, not cause any problems. I would never go to main office, stay in my room for nutrition and lunch. One thing I should have done is be more engaging to the rest of the school. In my mind, if I’m minding my business and not causing problems for anyone else, I’m OK. What it did is I came off more aloof. I wasn’t as open as I should have been and it hurt because people didn’t really know me. I had been there 12, 15 years and teachers didn’t know who I was. I think that’s my fault. In doing that, I think it hurt me and the program because how is anybody going to vouch for me or talk to me if they don’t really know me?”
Your reputation has taken a beating. How can you repair that when people think you violated rules?
“We attracted kids. Why? Because we won and got a lot of kids out. Did we promise we were going to win or get kids scholarships? No. But in L.A. Unified, enrollment is king. If a kid wants to come, am I supposed to tell him no? I would always tell them, if you come here, you have to move or do the sitout. Other than that, you have to go talk to the principal.”
Some will say you got too greedy and created a huge gap between other schools.
Up until 2018, we didn’t have some of the out of the state guys. I see how that hurt us. The gap created a lot of jealousy. On our 2017 state championship team, we had one transfer. We won eight City championships and two state tiles and it really sucks for all those kids on other teams they get tainted. That kind of got out hand. I didn’t really think it was a problem at the time. We didn’t do anything wrong, but it sure didn’t help us.”
You’ve spent nine months in a cocoon, quiet, restless, frustrated. Have you moved on?
“I will always be heartbroken how it ended at Narbonne. I put my heart and soul…. I remember when it was a field with dirt and no lights and we built that all the way through and made Narbonne a powerhouse. It is heartbreaking. They destroyed it. They could have asked me to leave and let Narbonne be what it was. I would have considered that.”