OC: Eric Patton out at San Clemente after 11 seasons

Just a few weeks before San Clemente takes the field with, arguably, its best football team ever, the Tritons won't have the coach who has guided them for more than a decade.

Eric Patton was removed Tuesday as coach as part of the fallout over a Capistrano Valley Unified School District investigation into alleged kickbacks to coaches from a sports apparel store that went out of business in 2008. The investigation was spurred on by a report by PBS SoCal's "Real Orange."

Patton has been replaced, on an interim basis, by athletic director Jon Hamro, who had been an assistant coach on the team.

Principal George Duarte sent a letter to parents and students on Aug. 16 advising of Hamro's appointment; the letter did not mention Patton, who went 97-44-1 over 11 seasons. The team went 8-3 last season but returns eight players on offense, and another eight on defense.

Patton is one of several coaches being investigated in connection with kickbacks from a Laguna Hills apparel and equipment store. In the PBS report, it is alleged that Bill Lapes of the now-defunct Lapes Athletic Team Sales overcharged for apparel and other equipment, and then returned a portion of the excess back to the coaches who placed the order, or someone the coach designated to receive the funds.

A sports meeting has been set for Monday, 6:30 p.m., at San Clemente in which Duarte and superintendent Joe Farley will answer questions.

Farley told the Orange County Register, "We believe there could have been criminal misconduct. The findings are significant enough that it merits being turned over to the sheriff's department."