ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The schools brawled to end the season.
Then they hired replacement coaches to end the year.
Within 24 hours of each other, Albuquerque High and Rio Grande have new football coaches.
Curtis Flakes was named at AHS on Thursday. Pat Quillen was brought on by the Ravens on Friday afternoon.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” the 39-year-old Quillen said about Rio Grande. “This isn’t a steppingstone for me. This comes right after my faith and my family on my priority list.”
Quillen was Foothill’s head coach the past five seasons and guided this year’s team into the 8-Man championship game last month, when it lost to Gateway Christian.
The Ravens were 1-9 last season under Jim Danner, who resigned just prior to that infamous season finale against AHS that ended prematurely with a second-quarter brawl.
It was declared a double forfeit.
“I’ve grown up in Albuquerque. I’m a West Mesa grad, so I know the kid at Rio Grande. I know the kid of the South Valley. These are good families, good kids, hard-nosed workers. To be honest, I’ve wondered what the struggle has been on the football side,” Quillen said. “I know the potential is there. I know the resources are there. There is a winner there. It’ll take the right coaching staff to give them confidence and direction.”
Quillen said it was just a matter of time “before we win. It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’ ”
The Bulldogs’ new boss is 31-year-old Flakes, who has reason to be an optimist. He’s beaten cancer, and he’s survived a life-threatening motorcycle accident.
The former University of New Mexico Lobo refuses to look at the Bulldogs’ job as a challenge.
“Call me crazy,” he said, “but I don’t think of it as stepping into a tough job. Football is what I’ve been doing my entire life since I was 6 years old. It’s less of a challenge and more of an opportunity to get some good experience and work with some great kids.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to get back on track, for lack of a better term, and get the program back to where it needs to be.”
Flakes, who played defensive back and wide receiver for Rocky Long from 2000-04, steps in during the roughest of times at AHS.
The program is not only coming off a third straight 0-10 season; it has lost a state record 39 consecutive games.
He is the fourth head coach for the Bulldogs since 2010. The last coach, Tim Garro, lost his job in the wake of that brawl with Rio Grande.
The 31-year-old Flakes, a native of Luskin, Texas, has four years of high school coaching experience, all at Manzano as a defensive backs coach.
He was on Aaron Ocampo’s staff for three years and then stayed on with Chad Adcox in 2012.
He didn’t coach this year, as he battled a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma with both radiation and chemotherapy treatments. He said he is in remission.
“I actually looked (at applying for the AHS opening last year), and I was going to apply, but I got diagnosed with cancer,” he said.
Now AHS starts anew.
“We’ve got to get them to start winning by just being winners,” Flakes said. “We’re gonna come in and get a good staff around the kids. We’ll focus on process and intangibles. Success isn’t just measured on wins and losses.”
Quillen said much the same thing about Rio Grande, that the Ravens would look at “focusing on doing everything right every day. The everyday process of going to class. Working out. Getting involved in the community. Going to YAFL games together. That will lead to wins, when you start doing all of those.”
Foothill is an Albuquerque school with imprisoned athletes.
“When you can be successful at a jail, with kids who are incarcerated with rival gang members,” Quillen said, “then there’s nothing I think that can’t be done.
“They are tough kids in the South Valley. There are some kids not going to Rio Grande any longer that I intend to try and get back. I firmly believe this can be a long-term thing where Rio Grande is perennially competing every weekend. The numbers are there. This is a community of good people.”