The football coach at one of Minnesota’s fastest-rising high school programs resigned Monday on the eve of the 2015 season amid a widening school district investigation of player eligibility concerns.
Mike Pendino, who coached at East Ridge for five seasons, submitted his resignation Monday morning, according to South Washington County School District communications director Barb Brown.
Pendino led East Ridge into the Class 6A tournament last fall before the district learned that a player never actually lived at the residence listed on the paperwork provided by the family.
Last month, the school forfeited all of its victories for the 2013 and 2014 seasons as well as conference and section football titles in the wake of the investigation by the South Washington County School District.
Pendino did not comment to the Star Tribune on Monday. In his resignation letter, he said: “[A]t no time was I aware of the purported fact of any East Ridge football player residing out of the boundaries of our school district, and at no time was I aware that any coach on my staff had any knowledge of this event. My understanding of the policy in place in the South Washington School District is such that the determination of any student’s place of residence is not a responsibility of a teacher or coach, but of the district administration. Would I have had knowledge of any such impropriety, I would have reported any inconsistency to my school athletic director or principal.
“With the continuing scrutiny placed on the football program at ERHS, I feel it would be best for the student athletes involved that their efforts and actions would be placed at the forefront, and it is for this reason that I resign my position so that their interests would regain the rightful place they deserve. They are a class act of hard-working young men and I wish them all of the best.”
The district is posting a position for an interim head football coach, Brown said. East Ridge players begin practice for the 2015 season next Monday.
After the forfeits were announced last month, JoJo Garcia, a top defensive lineman who verbally committed to the Gophers, confirmed to the Star Tribune that he was deemed ineligible to play. He said he was not the only East Ridge player with a residency issue.
“There are a couple of big-time recruits that probably shouldn’t have been there,” Garcia told the Star Tribune. He is transferring to Simley and will not be eligible for football this fall.
A district spokesperson said last week that it hoped to have the investigation completed before the beginning of practice.
East Ridge, which opened in 2009, competes with the state’s biggest schools in Class 6A and was among the top-ranked teams in the past two seasons. Before the forfeits, it posted an 8-2 record in 2013 and 9-2 record in 2014, losing to eventual state champion Eden Prairie in the state quarterfinals last fall.
Contacted after the forfeits were announced last month, Pendino said he learned of the district investigation a few weeks earlier from then-school athletic director Jon Hinzman. Pendino called the matter “a shame for the kids, it’s a shame for the school, it’s a shame for everybody involved.”
Pendino said he and his coaches “have no say on who can come into East Ridge,” emphasizing that approval is determined by the school district.
Pendino, a former assistant coach with several college teams including the Gophers, was the head coach at Holy Angels from 1997 to 2004. He resigned saying he wanted to watch his son play his final two years of high school football. He was an assistant in the school’s first season in 2009 before taking over as head coach the next season.
Pendino is the third high-profile official to resign at East Ridge within the past 10 months.
Aaron Harper resigned as principal in November amid a police investigation for alleged public misconduct. He has been charged with three felony counts of theft by swindle.
As the investigation into player eligibility unfolded, Hinzman resigned his post effective June 30.