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LA football coach resigns over bus dispute on eve of season

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It's not too rare for a high school coach to resign out of frustration over his or her relationship with their school's administration. Similar disputes over funding also can take fatal tolls on budding coaching careers. Yet few reasons for departure can compare to the official reason given for Gardena (Calif.) High football coach Ed Lalua's departure before his team's first official game: He left because he was mad about his team's buses.

Gardena football coach Ed Lalua

Gardena football coach Ed Lalua

As first reported by the Torrance Daily Breeze, Lalua left on the day of Gardena's season opener on Friday, blaming a dispute over the team's busing arrangement for its first game. Gardena was opening the season at Oceanside (Calif.) High, a game which required a bus ride of some two hours.

When Gardena decided not to take its junior varsity team to the Oceanside game, the school's allotment of three buses for the event was shrunk to two. That meant a lot of cramming for space between football players and "auxiliary team members," a group which included members of the band, drill team and cheerleaders.

Gardena officials insisted that some of the cheerleaders would have to ride on the varsity squad's bus, but Lalua refused, saying that there was no room. It appears he had plenty of grounds to refuse to squeeze them in, too.

"Forget about the distraction for the team and potential liability, our bus was already full," Lalau told the Daily Breeze. "We had players, coaching staff and equipment. I told them I don't know how they were going to fit.

"If it was a local trip just going down the street to Carson, that's different, but we were going all the way to Oceanside on Labor Day weekend. I told them they needed to order another bus."

After getting over the surprise of Lalua's refusal, the school's administration then reportedly told him to find a way to get the auxiliary members on the bus, or find another job.

Lalua chose to find another job.

"They told me I didn't have an option, and I told them that I did," Lalau said. "They made the decision very easy for me."

While Gardena lost that turbulent opener 41-14, Lalau said he expected that his assistant coaches, Carlson Leomiti and Eric Fitzpatrick, would take over the team on a permanent basis to provide some stability. That's something the program will badly need to build on the improvements made under Lalua, who took Gardena to its first postseason appearance in four years during the 2010 season.

"There's a lot of potential here, but there were a lot of ongoing problems too," Lalau told the Daily Breeze. "Still, I was trying to give it one more year. … Basically they told me my job was on the line. At that point, it became about the principle of the thing."

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