It turned out it wasn’t as easy as anyone expected when it came time to find a new Rio Rancho High School varsity girls soccer coach.

Strike 1: The selection committee found who it thought was the best candidate, but it turned out he was using the RRHS job as leverage for a raise from his current post, which worked out well for him – he’s staying there.

So, the next choice was Colton Oord, a member of the New Mexico Runners indoor soccer team.

Strike 2: “I ended up getting an offer elsewhere and hadn’t completed paperwork yet, so I pulled out,” Oord told the Observer, when asked when he’d be overseeing summer workouts.

But there is good news: The Rams have a coach who not only played varsity soccer for the Rams but is already a coach and teacher at the school: Michael Gonzales.

Gonzales grew up in Rio Rancho, attending Enchanted Hills Elementary, Mountain View Middle School and then Rio Rancho Mid-High before becoming a Ram.

“When Oord backed out, we took the weekend to think about our next steps,” said RRHS Athletic Director Sal Gonzales, not wanting to take a called third strike. “I reached out to Michael and gauged his interest. He was excited; I brought the idea to (just-retired RRPS Executive Director of Athletics Bruce Carver) and (RRHS Principal Ryan) Kettler.

“They both thought that Michael was a much better candidate compared to the other candidates who applied.”

RRHS boys soccer coach John Shepard agreed. “Shep” should know: He not only coached Gonzales, the team’s second-leading scorer and a 2009 graduate, but also had him as an assistant coach.

“He was a real hard-worker, a real good teammate,” Shepard said of Gonzales, who began his college days at the University of New Mexico for one year before heading to Northwest Christian University (now Bushnell) University in Eugene, Oregon, to further his career.  By the time he finished his studies there, he’d also competed on the university’s track team – he had run the 400 and 800 with the Rams – and left with a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 2016.

After spending the next three years as an outpatient therapist, he returned to the City of Vision to be closer to his family and served as an assistant for Shepard in the 2019 season – and began teaching at RRHS in the fall of 2020.

After Gonzales was named to succeed retiring Vince Metzgar as the school’s athletic director, RRHS needed new track coaches: Harvey Carreathers became the boys head coach, Gonzales’ became the girls head coach.

He’s planning to still coach the girls track and field team in the spring, which shouldn’t be a problem as his boss, Sal Gonzales, noted, “He exceeded expectations in his first year as head coach of the girls track team, winning a district championship.”

Of course, first up is the soccer season.

“We want to make it to the state playoffs,” he said, realizing the Rams will be led by their third coach in as many seasons: Uwe Balzis in 2021, Todd Doss in ’22 and now Gonzales.

The Rams were 13-7 in Balzis’s final season, and 9-10-1 last fall, with a 2-7 record and fourth place in District 1-5A, missing the postseason.

Michael Gonzales says he has three main goals: “have fun, work hard and develop character,” while building what he hopes will become a stable program.

During the school day, he’ll be teaching Intro to Psychology and an AP Psychology class at RRHS.

“Michael has quickly become one of our most valuable assets at RRHS,” says Sal Gonzales. “He’s an excellent teacher and coach, and he’s a team player who always helps students and staff.”

The Rams’ season kicks off Friday, Aug. 25, with a visit by Centennial High at 3 p.m. The Rams then meet Mayfield on the RRHS pitch the next morning at 11.