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Virginia state championship coach heads to Rio Rancho High School

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Gerard “Gerry” Pannoni has been named the new head coach for the Rio Rancho High School football team, replacing David Howes, who resigned after 11 seasons at the helm to become an assistant coach for the University of New Mexico.

Pannoni, the sixth head football coach at RRHS, is currently a physical education teacher and head football coach at South County High School in Lorton, Va. He recently completed his 40th year of coaching high school football in Virginia, half of those as a head coach. During his career as a head football coach in Virginia, his team has won seven conference championships, two regional championships, appeared in three state semifinal games — winning two of them — and winning the 6A (with 54 6A teams in Va.) state championship in 2019, going 15-0.

Two weeks after Howes and the Rams lost the Class 6A championship game in New Mexico, Pannoni and his Stallions beat Oscar Smith High School (13-2) 14-13 for the 6A crown in Virginia.

Head coach for the past nine seasons at SCHS, he compiled a record of 84-31, with only one losing season. When he was named the head coach at SCHS, in early July 2011, he was taking over a team that had been 4-6 in 2010, and the Stallions lost their first three games, then put together an 11-game winning streak that took them to the championship game, which they lost.

Pannoni emerged as the favorite among what began as a field of 21 applicants, then whittled down to seven finalists – four of them having served under Howes at RRHS (Nate Pino, Nathaniel Charley, Damian Elebario-Valencia and Chris Howe) — plus Greg Henington, the head coach at Belen until he resigned that post to become the offensive coordinator at Eldorado in 2019, and John O’Mera, the head coach at Eastern Arizona College until it dropped football after the 2018 season.

As for Pannoni, Rio Rancho Public Schools Athletic Director Larry Chavez said, “He brought a lot of experience to the table. He’s well respected in the area, and his accolades just show what kind of coach he has been for the last 20-plus years as a head coach — 40 overall.”

Pannoni has received several coaching awards since taking the reins at South County in 2011, including six times being named the Patriot District Coach of the Year, twice the Northern/Occoquan Region Coach of the Year, one VHSL Coach of the Year honor, three times he has been the Northern Virginia Football Hall of Fame Coach of the Year and being the first  inductee into the South County High School Football Ring of Honor, named after him.

He and his wife had recently purchased a home in Albuquerque to be near their daughter and her family; she is a family nurse-practitioner in the area. He’ll be teaching physical education, which he has done for many years in Virginia, when he starts at RRHS.

He has reportedly been contacting members of Howes’ staff, asking them to join him on the sideline. Pannoni will likely be in charge of special teams, and need defensive and offensive coordinators.

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