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MATT MASIN , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Laguna Hills head coach Bruce Ingalls on the sidelines during Friday's CIF-SS Southwest Division second round playoff game against La Habra

Ingalls leaving a legacy at Laguna Hills

STAFF WRITER

Each year, after the regular football season, coaches from each league meet to discuss which players deserve all-league awards.

This year, coaches in the Sea View League added an additional award: Coach of the Year.

The decision was nearly unanimous, the five coaches voted 4-1 to name Laguna Hills High School coach Bruce Ingalls as the award’s inaugural recipient.

The coach who voted against it? Bruce Ingalls.

“Coaches can put together a lot of schemes and game plans, but it’s only going to be as good as those kids knowing what to do on Friday night,” Ingalls said. “It’s not what we know when it’s all said and done, it’s what they can do on the field.”

The longtime coach has long been known for downplaying his role in on-field successes and passing the credit to those he feels are more deserving, but Ingalls earned the award.

The Hawks, coming off a 1-9 campaign in 2014, had one of the biggest turnarounds in Orange County football, earning seven more wins in 2015. They made their first postseason appearance since 2012 and earned their first playoff win, a 13-10 triumph over Woodbridge, since 2010.

Prior to the season, Ingalls gathered his players and staff to chat. It was there he told everyone that 2015 would be his final season as the Hawks’ head coach. He then said there was to be no more discussion.

On Nov. 27, in a 42-14 loss, Ingalls wrapped up his final season as Hawks’ head coach. The record for his final season was 8-4.

“Obviously, it was pretty bittersweet. I should be happy retiring, but you always like to retire and have the fairytale ending where you win your last game,” Ingalls said with a laugh. “But only one coach is going to be happy in the end. I’m just very happy our guys got us to the playoffs and got us to the second round.”

Ingalls has scoffed at the notion that this year’s record is a reflection of his team wanting to send its coach out in style. These kids did it on their own, Ingalls said earlier this year, through hard work and preparation during the offseason and execution each week on the field.

It’s the same mentality he brought to the program when he became the Hawks head coach in 1998. He’s as thankful for teaching the kids and having a dedicated staff as they have been for his leadership. His philosophies have never changed, nor has the way he treats his kids. He is beloved in the community for that consistency.

“We’ve had blue-collar groups and we knew we had to outwork our opponents,” Ingalls said. “What was more remarkable was that we had a school of 1,600, a defense without a starter over 200 pounds and they beat Trabuco, it’s a testament to the coaches and the kids.”

The longtime coach always kept his philosophies and ideas as simple as possible. He took over for Steve Bresnahan, who led the Hawks to their second CIF championship in 1997 before stepping down.

His mentor by example was Terry Henigan, the longtime Irvine coach whom Ingalls looked up to for his ability to turn the public school into a consistent playoff contender. Scheduling nonleague games against Henigan’s Vaqueros was a necessity.

But upon taking over at Laguna Hills, Ingalls simply wanted to keep the momentum rolling. He guided the Hawks to a league title in 1998, but the team wouldn’t reach that plateau again for eight seasons.

This season, Laguna Hills High had 800 fewer students than the next smallest Sea View League opponent. Numbers – and kids – have always been smaller than those at other schools in the league, but that didn’t keep Ingalls from sticking with his style.

NO-NONSENSE APPROACH

“Coach kids the way you want to be coached.”

It’s a mantra Ingalls first heard when he began coaching at Livonia High in New York in 1977. Its simplicity stuck with him throughout his career.

Under Ingalls, the Hawks always took the blue-collar approach. “We had to outwork our opponents,” Ingalls said. Sometimes, it would lead to success. In other years, Ingalls knew the challenge was steeper.

Ingalls maintained an honesty with his student athletes. It came through in Monday afternoon game plans. Ingalls always wanted his kids to know exactly what they were up against. He wanted no surprises.

“The main thing is it helped us establish game plans where we weren’t asking our kids to do too little or too much,” Ingalls said. “If you take a realistic approach, it’s going to be easier for you during the game and it’s going to make it feel a lot more natural for them because they know what to expect.”

In this, his final season, Ingalls said the feeling after the Hawks’ second-round playoff match against La Habra was bittersweet. Coaches always want to go out on top, but “only one gets that luxury,” he said.

Finishing 8-4, seven wins above where the program was last year, was a feeling of accomplishment in and of itself. The long-tenured coach earned his 100th coaching win in a Week 2 win over Woodbridge.

It’s not the first time an Ingalls-led squad had such a turnaround. In 2005, the program bounced back from a 0-10 season to split a league title. That team finished 5-6 after starting the year 0-4.

Ingalls credits the kids for putting in the extra work prior to his final season. He maintains he’s always had the best assistant coaches around.

“It was a group effort,” he said. “I happened to be steering the ship, but there were a lot of guys rowing the boat. It took a village to get this thing working.”

The crowning achievement, for Ingalls, is the unity he and his coaches had in putting their primary focus on the classroom and making football secondary. In his 18 years as head coach, Ingalls and Laguna Hills are one of the top public schools represented in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame for Scholar Athletes.

The qualifications for the award? Carrying a 3.5-plus GPA and being named first team all-league.

“We’ve had kids come out who are engineers, doctors and lawyers,” he said. “You never know what they’ve accomplished until about 10 to 15 years later when they’re out in the world with families and great jobs. Then you kind of know maybe something you did … struck a nerve and they bought into it and understood the importance of hard work was definitely going to pay off later in life.”

But it all comes back to his no-nonsense approach, and his realistic nature. He thanks the Saddleback Valley Unified School District for allowing him to teach for as long as he has and thanks the community for the support it provided to help keep the program running.

CREATING A LEGACY

During his 30-year tenure (18 as head coach), his teams have won 13 league titles – including six in a row from 2005-10 – and three CIF championships, including an undefeated run to the CIF-SS Southern Division title in 2008, the only undefeated season in school history.

His teams also made postseason appearances in 13 consecutive seasons from 2000-12. He finished with an overall record of 105-78-1.

He’s run through the highs and lows of coaching as though they were one and the same. Being a public school, Ingalls always had an understanding that some years are going to be harder than others.

“When you think about it, isn’t that pretty typical for a public school to go through cycles like that?” Ingalls said. “I think if you coach long enough like I did, you’ll see a school go through the difficult times. Sometimes you have to be patient with a public school. You aren’t supposed to win championships each year.”

Knowing how dedicated he was to Hawks football, there’s no reason to think that Ingalls won’t be back to cheer on the community and reflect on the memories he and his student athletes accrued over 30 years at Laguna Hills High.

“I put it all on the kids. I just know as a player, because I wasn’t the biggest out there, I knew I was going to have to outwork everybody to be successful,” Ingalls said. “We just engrained that in our kids.”

Hard work, as it turns out, still pays off.

Contact the writer: 949-492-5135 or npercy@ocregister.com


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