It was the day after Christmas, and nearly four weeks has passed since Mater Dei’s crushing season-ending defeat to St. John Bosco.
Bruce Rollinson couldn’t sit home any longer.
He told his wife, Laurie, he was heading to the football office for a brief visit. Seven hours later, he walked back through the front door, feeling not much different than when he left.
The reason for his extended absence didn’t need explaining. Laurie knew exactly what her husband was doing, wringing his fingers and massaging his brow, trying to figure out how the Monarchs lost to St. John Bosco in their CIF-Southern Section Division I championship game.
Laurie gently reminded Bruce that he was long overdue to let that defeat become part of the past, and finally take some time to enjoy the offseason.
Rollinson knew his wife was right. He’s very familiar with the competitor that burns inside of him. He knows the thinker, the planner, the problem solver too.
Rollinson has been getting to know himself as the head coach at Mater Dei for the last 29 years, even reinventing himself five years ago with a crash course in modern technology and wider acceptance and understanding of today’s youth.
And he’s learned how to win.
Rollinson was recognized for his success earlier this month when he was named the National High School Football Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association. The award has been handed out every year since 2000, but only one coach on the West Coast has earned the distinction, Bob Ladouceur of De La Salle in 2001 and 2004.
“Fortunately, [the award] says Bruce Rollinson, Head Coach, Mater Dei High School,” Rollinson told High School Football America, an NHSCA partner. “That’s what’s important to me.”
Rollinson, 67, has spent a big chunk of his life at Mater Dei, first as a student-athlete from 1963-67, then returning as an assistant football coach in 1976 after playing four years at USC. He served in that role until 1982, when he moved on to the junior college level.
When the Mater Dei head coaching position opened up following the 1988 season, Rollinson sold himself to the administration with promises of bringing back the traditions established by Dick Coury, his former coach at Mater Dei, as well as Coury’s inspirational approach to coaching.
“Dick Coury had a tremendous impact on me,” Rollinson said. “This is a powerful man who knew how to work with kids and I was one of the benefactors of his gentle, yet firm, mannerisms, his discipline, his accountability, which helped mold me.”
Coury was also ahead of his time when it came to offensive play-calling, implementing multi-receiver sets and complicated pass routes, which helped John Huarte develop into a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Notre Dame in 1964, an award one of Rollinson’s former quarterbacks, Matt Leinart, won at USC in 2004.
The other coach Rollinson watched closely during his playing days and still tries to emulate is former USC coach John McKay, who taught Rollinson the business side of football.
“I was always fascinated to hear him speak publicly and how he was able to get the message of the University of Southern California across, whether it was to a high school recruit, or a group of businessmen,” Rollinson said. “It had an impact on me. I try to use myself as an advocate for Mater Dei High School, and the brand of Mater Dei High School I promote constantly.”
Fortunately for Rollinson, that part of his job has no offseason.