Michael Brennan, the tall, silver-haired president of Santa Ana Mater Dei High, likes to hug people he likes. The school’s new football coach, Frank McManus, gets lots of hugs.
It seems like everyone holds McManus in high esteem. When Brennan introduced McManus as a replacement for the retiring Bruce Rollinson last month, players gave him a standing ovation.
Brennan jokes that McManus’ red hair and Irish blood made a big impression on his decision. In reality, Brennan concluded that despite no head coaching experience, 47-year-old McManus was the right person to succeed Rollinson.
“I believe Mater Dei will go from good to great,” Brennan said.
McManus has coached Mater Dei’s defensive backs for the past seven years. Prior to that, he was a freshman and junior varsity coach at Mater Dei for nine years. In his twenties, he worked as a bank administrator. He worked in the aerospace industry for 15 years. Only recently did he decide to change his profession, to focus on teaching and earning his teaching certificate. Now he is poised to take over a program that is the only high school to have produced three Heisman Trophy winners.
“It’s a new era in football,” McManus said during an interview in Brennan’s office on Thursday.
He has been working closely with Mater Dei defensive coordinator Eric Johnson and is evaluating the coaching staff to see who wants to return. Rollinson will remain on campus until June 30, where he will act as a mentor and provide “institutional knowledge.” His future with the program is yet to be determined.
“Bruce Rollinson will always be welcome on this campus,” Brennan said. “He’ll know when to ride off into the sunset. We will support him on his journey.”
Rollinson is on his way to Hall of Fame status after 34 years in charge. However, the past two seasons have put a strain on him and the program due to a lawsuit filed in November 2021 by the family of a former player alleging a culture of hazing in the program. It was abolished last month.
As for not releasing a safety review of the athletics program that concluded last month, Brennan, who was hired in January 2022, said: “It’s simple. Mater Dei is a safe school. It has always been a safe school and will continue to be.”
Now the Monarchs are looking for a fresh start under McManus, which certainly fits the profile of the coach-teacher-mentor Brennan was seeking.
“He’s ready to go,” Brennan said.
McManus managed to go through two sets of interviews in what Brennan called a “rigorous process” to find someone who not only coaches football but is also the person who represents Mater Dei’s values.
“I started in the youth leagues with my older sons and fell in love with coaching,” said McManus.
Brennan was principal at Anaheim Servite for 15 years and made it clear that he likes to win games, but producing good students and good people is the school’s top priority.
“Frank loves the kids, and because they know that, he can discipline them and control them and say things to them in a way that makes them the people they should be,” Brennan said.
McManus will inherit a talent-laden team expected to be No. 1 in the Southland in the fall, led by four-year starter Elijah Brown at quarterback.