Veteran San Clemente football coach Eric Patton has been replaced by interim coach and Tritons athletic director Jon Hamro fewer than three weeks before the start of the season, the school announced Tuesday.
Patton has been a key focus of an investigation into a sports equipment and apparel company’s alleged kickbacks to Orange County coaches.
Hamro, who has been a varsity assistant coach, takes the interim head coach post immediately but there is “no timetable” for how long he will serve in the position, said Marcus Walton, chief communications officer for the Capistrano Unified School District.
Patton remains an employee of the district, but Walton declined to comment on whether he will teach or coach at San Clemente this fall. Walton said the district can’t discuss personnel issues.
Late Tuesday night, Patton declined comment and referred questions to his attorney. A phone messages left for Hamro wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday night.
Patton has been part of an investigation into the financial records of coaches throughout Orange County and Southern California who had business dealings with the now-defunct Lapes Athletic Team Sales (LAPES) of Laguna Hills. Several Orange County coaches, including other high-profile football coaches, allegedly were part of a long-standing slush fund operation.
“As you may know, there has been recent publicity about the use of athletic funds at many Southern California high schools, including several in the Capistrano Unified School District,” Duarte wrote. “We are carefully reviewing our funding system as a result of this publicity.”
In July, the district said that some of its high school coaches may have embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars of district and parent money in a kickback scheme involving a LAPES.
Capistrano Unified School District has conducted an internal investigation. Superintendent Joe Farley told The Register last month that the initial findings of a nine-month, internal district investigation showed that LAPES may have overbilled the district for athletic supplies and then shared the excess cash with coaches who placed the orders.
“We believe there could have been criminal misconduct,” Farley told The Register. “The findings are significant enough that it merits being turned over to the sheriff’s department.”
The allegations of the slush funds first came from Geoff and Teresa Sando of Irvine to PBS SoCal’s “Real Orange.” The couple invested heavily in LAPES and eventually took over the company in a damage control capacity as it went under.
The couple later discovered documents labeled “slush.” One 2000 document is a signed faxed note from Patton and “Triton Football” to Lapes and owner Bill Lapes requesting $500 payments be sent to three people, including a Ward Patton. Eric Patton has a son named Ward.
Before San Clemente, Patton coached at Capistrano Valley – another Capistrano district school. He guided the Cougars to a CIF-SS Division 2 title in 1990. Patton was headed into his 12th season as San Clemente’s coach. The Tritons have been successful under Patton. They went 97-44-1 but were expected to have one of their best teams this fall.
San Clemente features touted recruits Kyle Murphy, a left tackle, and Travis Wilson, a quarterback who has committed to Utah.
A sports meeting at San Clemente has been scheduled for Monday. Farley is expected to attend.
The Tritons open the season Sept. 2 by playing host Cabrillo of Long Beach.
“Please know that school and district officials will maintain support for Triton football,” Duarte wrote in the letter. “Thank you for your support and patience as we move forward to resolve this situation.”
- Register reporter Scott Martindale contributed to this report.
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