Michael Brennan, the tall, silver-haired president of Santa Ana Mater Dei High, loves to hug people he likes. The school’s new football coach, Frank McManus, has been receiving lots of hugs.
It seems as if everyone has a high regard for McManus. When Brennan introduced McManus last month as the replacement for the retiring Bruce Rollinson, players gave him a standing ovation.
Brennan jokes that McManus’ red hair and Irish blood made a big impression in his decision. In truth, Brennan concluded the 47-year-old McManus, despite no head coaching experience, was the right person to succeed Rollinson.
“I believe Mater Dei is going to go from good to great,” Brennan said.
McManus has coached Mater Dei’s defensive backs for the last seven years. Before that, he was a freshman and junior varsity coach at Mater Dei for nine years. In his 20s, he worked as a banking administrator. For 15 years, he worked in the aerospace industry. Only recently did he decide to switch professions, focusing on education and obtaining his teaching credential. Now he’s ready to take over a program that is the only high school to produce three Heisman Trophy winners.
“It’s a new era of football,” McManus said Thursday during an interview in Brennan’s office.
He worked closely with Mater Dei defensive coordinator Eric Johnson and is in the process of evaluating the coaching staff to see who wants to return. Rollinson remains on campus until June 30, serving as a mentor and providing “institutional knowledge.” His future with the program remains to be determined.
“Bruce Rollinson is always going to be welcome on this campus,” Brennan said. “He’ll know when to ride into the sunset. We’ll support him in his journey.”
Rollinson is headed to Hall of Fame status after 34 years in charge. The last two seasons, however, have put pressure on him and the program because of a lawsuit filed in November 2021 by the family of a former player that alleged a culture of hazing in the program. It was dismissed last month.
As for not releasing a safety assessment of the athletic program that was finalized last month, Brennan, who was hired in January 2022, said, “It’s simple. Mater Dei is a safe school. It’s always been a safe school and will continue to be a safe school.”
Now the Monarchs are looking for a fresh start under McManus, who certainly fits the profile of the coach-teacher-mentor Brennan sought.
“He is ready to go,” Brennan said.
McManus made it through two sets of interviews in what Brennan called a “rigorous process” to find someone not to just coach football but to be the person to represent Mater Dei’s values.
“I started in the youth leagues with my older sons and fell in love with coaching,” McManus said.
Brennan spent 15 years as principal at Anaheim Servite and made it clear that he likes to win games but turning out good students and quality people is the school’s top priority.
“Frank loves the kids, and because they know that, he can discipline them and stay on top of them and say things to them in a way so that they become the people they’re supposed to be,” Brennan said.
McManus will inherit a talent-laden team that is expected to be ranked No. 1 in the Southland in the fall, led by four-year starter Elijah Brown at quarterback.