Sal Gonzales has had his eyes on the prize for a while, it seems, with no other job in mind, other than his teaching in the classroom and coaching the Rams boys’ cross country and track & field teams.

Now, RRHS’s Social Studies Instructional leader — and longtime cross country and track & field coach — has that prize: He’s the new athletic director at Rio Rancho High School.

Sal Gonzales chats with his cross country runners before a fall 2021 meet. (Herron photo)

“At this point, I don’t know if it has hit me yet,” Gonzales, 47, said a few days after getting the good news. “Last week was crazy in that we had four days of meets. … While I am extremely excited for this new opportunity, I haven’t had a chance to process my emotions.”

His run to a new desk

“About six years ago I went back to school to earn my master’s degree in educational leadership,” he said. “During the internship classes, I had the opportunity to work with (retiring A.D.) Vince Metzgar.

“I knew then that the A.D. position at RRHS would be the only administration position I would consider applying for,” Gonzales said. “When Vince retired, that was a bittersweet moment because Vince has been great to work for and he has been the foundation of the athletic program here.”

Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Athletics Bruce Carver said the position received only four applicants, and it was evident Gonzales, who ran on the track team while attending New Mexico Highlands University, was the right guy for the job.

“He has good relationships with head coaches, and it gives him a tremendous advantage — he understands the coaches, the culture, the traditions at RRHS,” Carver said. “Sal is a high-energy guy who works extremely hard. He’s very loyal to Rio Rancho High School. He’s been a head coach there for 14 years — that is a long run.”

And it’s been a successful run, too, Carver says: “Four state championships (in cross country; boys in 2013 and ’14; girls in 2016 and ’20). He also won one at Pecos (1999) and 13 runner-up trophies. He’s consistently had the cross country program among the top in the state.”

Gonzales will never forget that 2013 blue trophy.

“While every state championship and state placing is amazing, nothing beats breaking through and winning the big school division of the state championship. While in Pecos I won my first state championship in 1999, winning the big-school championship for the first time in 2013 felt like it justified my coaching career.

“I was lucky enough to get more opportunities because of the great athletes at RRHS,” headed, proud to have had the opportunity share his coaching duties with his family and to coach his children (Natalie and Gabe), not to mention “my wife has been helping out with different aspects of the Rio Rancho Jamboree since we arrived in Rio Rancho in 2008.”

What’s next?

Not coaching won’t be easy, Gonzales said, because nothing is more rewarding to him than “seeing a coach or athlete ‘get it’ … accomplishing a goal … or learning a new skill. Seeing that joy is amazing.

“I know that I am going to miss coaching,” he said, “but I am excited to learn new skills and start working on the next — probably the last — stage of my career.”

That stage won’t include implementing wholesale changes in RRHS athletics.

“I am not looking at coming in and making large-scale changes,” he vowed. “RRHS has the best coaching staff in the state and we run top-notch programs. My goal is to continue the Ram tradition and do my best to help coaches improve.

“One issue that is near and dear to my heart is increasing athletic participation among at-risk groups. I believe that we need to do a better job of opening doors to athletes who feel like they can’t afford to play sports.”

On deck for Carver: “Our next challenge is trying to find a high-caliber track and cross country coach, Carver said, unsure if “We may keep them together or we might separate them.”