ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sundevils coach’s goals are high — but so are the expectations
Talking to Richard Martinez is a little like conversing in a cave.
How you doing, Coach?
“How are you, Coach?”
Do you call your wife Coach, Coach?
To the world, at least to Richard Martinez’s world, everybody is coach.
Of course, there’s only one Coach Richard Martinez. He’s the man who guides the Sundevil boys at Española Valley High School.
He’s the guy who carries the weight of 10,000 loud, beseeching and at times disappointed fans on his broad shoulders.
He is the human echo chamber.
Coach, do you worry about pressure this year at state?
“Coach, I don’t worry too much about pressure at state.”
Some Española fans worry. The state tournament for the Sundevils has been a bit like the state penitentiary. Unhappy things have happened there.
Let’s review the record.
n In 2007, the Sundevil boys came to the Pit for the first time in 16 years. That’s a dog’s life, a fan pointed out. And it was. Tails between their legs, Española, the No. 3 seed in 4A, departed the first day.
n In 2008, the Sundevil boys lost their first game of the regular season. Then won all the rest. At state, as the No. 1 seed, they fell to Albuquerque Academy in the semifinals. By a single point.
n In 2009, as the No. 1 seed, the Sundevils fell again in the semis, to Artesia. By two points. In the third overtime.
“The last three years,” says Martinez, “we’ve played well, Coach. But just not at the end. I think we’re very well prepared this year.”
Española fans yearn for the state basketball title that an EVHS boys — or girls — team has never won. The fans have not given up. Midweek each March for the last three years stores in Española have closed as residents descended on Albuquerque.
Do Española Valley rooters want too much from Martinez? Some people might think so. In January, while the Sundevil boys played a home game against Taos, their coach’s house caught fire. A fan at the game told Martinez the house had burned to the ground, causing him to rush from the gym to check on his mother, who was in a wheelchair inside the house. Mom was briefly hospitalized, but she’s fine. The house was saved, though there was much smoke damage. The police blamed arson.
What do you think about that, Coach?
“Let’s keep that out of this, Coach.”
Last year a rumor buzzed about that a fan, unhappy with Martinez’s coaching, shot Martinez’s dog with a bow and arrow.
Any truth to that, Coach?
[Laughter] “No truth to that, Coach.”
So here come the Sundevils again, trying once more to get that blue trophy. Or, at last, to reach the finals, where they’ve never been.
“You know, even if they made it to the championship game and lost, some people in the valley still wouldn’t happy,” says Patrick Archuleta, who owns the Cutting Edge Barber Shop in Española. “He’s taken an incredible amount of scrutiny in the blogs. This about a man who has won four district titles. The kids love him.”
Theresa Flores, Española Valley High’s athletics director, admits that some people were upset by how last season ended. “The community as a whole had high expectations and they still do. My interpretation is that we’re talking about 15, 16, 17-year-old kids here. That’s too young to expect so much.”
Last season was Martinez’s sixth year as head coach. Says Flores: “Some people felt we needed to go in a new direction.”
Flores was not among them. Her son, James Flores, who graduated a year ago, played on the varsity for Martinez for three years.
“As a parent, I know how much time Richard devotes to this program,” Flores says. “James said he taught him a great deal. All his players are loyal to him. They know how hard he works. I’ve never seen Richard lose his temper in a game. The only time we disagreed was when he wanted new uniforms to be white and gold. I said they needed to be white and red. He said red was too common. I said red was a powerful color.”
So what happened? The uniforms are white, with gold and red trim.
“Most of the community supports him,” says Richard Garcia, who has broadcast games for local radio station KDCE for 40 years. “There might be some who says he doesn’t play their kid enough. But listen, he does his best. He’s a quality, first-class coach, a religious man. He does what is best, what is right.”
That hasn’t always worked elsewhere for Martinez. At age 46, he has made several stops in his 20 years in coaching basketball.
At Mora, where he took his first head coaching job, he was fired. The dismissal was hard to take. He can laugh and say, “I guess they got tired of winning,” but the hurt lingers. “I was very successful there. But you’ve got understand the political aspect of a program, Coach. And you need to have a message. I learned that.”
From Mora he went to Gallina. He left there after two years because he says he wasn’t getting any support. He even left coaching for a year or two.
The sign of a good coach, Martinez says, is moving on from adversity. “The losses at state have been hard. But they made us a stronger program, a better community. I wouldn’t trade what this community has given our kids for a state title. Just going there is a rush for people in the valley.”
Whatever happens this week, Richard Garcia, the radio voice of the Sundevil boys, says Martinez will be back next season. “Nobody here is going to chase him off.”
“People for some reason like to make comments about Española,” says Martinez. “Ninety percent of time there is no truth to what they say. The valley is my home; I grew up here, I take pride in it. Know what I’m saying, Coach?”
We do, Coach, we do.