In a span of four years, the Pecos boys basketball program skyrocketed to the pinnacle of the northern New Mexico prep hoops mountain.
Four gleaming blue trophies earned in consecutive seasons sitting proudly beside each other in the school’s trophy case will do that.
But the architect of that rise – coach Ira Harge Jr. – has taken his talents to Española Valley as athletic director.
Cue assistant Arthur Gonzales, who moves down the bench one chair to fill the role of head coach, his first high school gig as the top dog.
Gonzales, whose son, Devin Gonzales, was a member of the Panthers’ nine-man senior class, has some serious work ahead of him to fill Harge’s high tops and keeping the run going. Hobbs is the only other public school in the state to claim four straight championships but, while talented, Pecos will be short on varsity experience.
That, however, doesn’t faze Gonzales in the least bit.
“As far looking at a fifth championship, I’m not focused on that,” he said. “My goal, I like to focus on a lot of the details, make sure not to cut any corners. Every day, we’ll look to get better at practice, get better at games and mature along the way. We’ll put ourselves in a position to compete at the end of the year.”
That has been the game plan for the five years that Gonzales has been a part of the program and he can’t see it changing now.
“The past four years, the target has been on our back, teams have looked at us and focused on us,” he said. “We have the same expectations for us, but we’re just going to focus on becoming the best version of ourselves that we can.”
Gonzales, who works at Los Alamos National Lab as an engineering technologist, first got into coaching some 13 years ago at the elementary school level when Devin Gonzales began to take an interest in the sport. Father and son continued to move up the ranks, going into AAU ball and summer club leagues.
Then, five years ago, Harge brought coach Gonzales in as a varsity assistant and head coach at Pecos Middle School.
That means he’s already coached most of the players in the Panthers program.
And learning under Harge was a tremendous advantage, Gonzales said.
“The leadership that coach Harge had was second to none from coaching college, breaking down film and being able to prepare for games,” he said. “That’s what I really learned.”
Then there are aspects of coaching that often get overlooked.
“I learned about fundraising and meetings, and those types of organizational things, basketball functions, working with parents,” he said. “I definitely have learned a lot and I had good opportunities. I’m hoping I can use those skills and keep the program moving forward with good success and in a positive manner.”
Gonzales, who admittedly sports an excitable personality on the bench, studied Harge’s demeanor on the sidelines.
“One of the key things, he’s very calm under situations, game situations,” Gonzales said. “He keeps his composure. He’s a cool guy. I’m a little more excited on the bench so he’s been a great mentor for me.”
One of the keys to the Panthers’ success over the past four years was a coaching staff that worked well together, Gonzales said. And even though he’s still bringing his staff together, he wants to foster a similar attitude.
“All of us coaches would put our minds together and we’re each able to put our own spices, our own minds together and learn together,” Gonzales said. “Being able to work together, and definitely listen to each other’s opinions and game plan together was positive.”
It’s a sure thing, however, that the standard, up-and-down Panthers’ game plan will remain a constant, he said.
“Absolutely,” Gonzales said. “It’s part of the reason why coach Harge and I were on the same page. You mentioned Hobbs; my ideal was the way Ralph Tasker coached. High-pressure defense, in your face. We’re not going to change that mindset. If we can speed up teams and create more opportunities for ourselves, that’s a great thing. We’re going to run and gun.”