Santa Margarita football coach Harry Welch, who has been on paid administrative leave for nearly four weeks, was reinstated by the school on Wednesday, it was announced in a letter from school President Paul Carey and Principal Ray Dunne.
Welch had been investigated by the Orange County Sheriff for an incident on Dec. 13 in which he allegedly pushed or shoved a player; however, the Orange County District Attorney declined to press charges against the coach because it didn't think they had enough evidence to win a conviction. The victim declined to press charges; the tip that the event occurred came from an anonymous source. The incident took place between Santa Margarita's victories in the Southern Section Pac-5 and CIF State Bowl Championships.
This was Welch's second season as coach; the Eagles are 22-5 in that span after going 6-14 the previous two seasons.
Here are the contents of the letter to parents from Carey and Dunne:
As you may be aware, Coach Harry Welch has been on administrative leave pending a joint review of a situation reported by a parent to the Principal's office. School administration, diocesan officials and local law enforcement have reviewed this matter. That comprehensive review has resulted in returning Coach Welch to his position and duties as Head Football Coach. The safety of our students was paramount in our review and will always remain our first consideration. While some of you may wish to know the details of the report, review, results and conditions of his return to duties, because of the laws of the State of California which protect the privacy rights of employees, neither the school administration nor diocesan officials are at liberty to provide any further detail. This is a protection that belongs to the employee who is not obligated to waive it. We assure you that the actions taken by the school administration and the diocese in this matter were taken to protect our students from risk.
Though Welch was cleared by the district attorney of any criminal wrongdoing, the school didn't return him immediately to his position, instead conducting its own review in conjunction with the Catholic Diocese of Orange. He has been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 20.
Since winning the championships, the school has had a flurry of negative news. Two coaches, Sean Coen and Robert Hendricks, were fired after it was learned they had pleaded guilty to a marijuana possession charge during the season, but only after it became public that it was a plea deal from two felony counts; Welch was investigated for allegedly assaulting a player in a classroom environment; and assistant golf coach Kevin Orton, who also coached junior varsity football, was arrested for allegedly possessing and being under the influence of cocaine during a a traffic stop.