Two longtime coaches “down the hill” at Cibola High School announced their resignations recently.
Both have had district rivalry confrontations with City of Vision teams at Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools, but they have been healthy — not heated nor nasty — battles on the diamond and court.
Softball won’t be the same
After 37 years, 575 victories, and three state championships, one of the most successful coaches in state history decided to call it a career. Gene Victor announced at the end of the 2022 season it was time to retire as head softball coach at CHS.
“It’s just time,” Victor told JP Murrieta of the New Mexico Activities Association, echoing what countless coaches have said. “I always said I wanted to coach until this age — I’m 75 — and it’s time to go and let someone else come in with a very good team.”
Victor had 22 postseason appearances in his 37 seasons at Cibola, to go with three consecutive state championships (2007-09). Victor was named National Coach of the Year for 2016-17.
Victor grew up in Albuquerque, graduating from Rio Grande High School in 1965. He first took over the program at CHS in 1985.
“I was an assistant coach to Bill Gracey on the baseball team,” Victor said. “He called me one day and asked if I was interested in the head coaching job with softball. He knew I played fastpitch softball and it might be a good opportunity.”
Victor’s softball career didn’t get off to a strong start.
“I remember we only won six games that first year, but one of those was against number one West Mesa,” he said.
Victor went on to become one of the most successful softball coaches in state history with an overall record of 575 wins and 316 losses.
“I’ve had so many memorable moments over my career,” Victor reflected. “The first state championship game, that’s one I’ll always remember. I remember all the hard work we had put in to get there. The tournament was up in Farmington and when we got there, one of my best players (Latainna Eltsosie) stepped off the bus and sprained her ankle really bad. She played, though. She was tough.”
Missy Martinez, who was on those three teams, “was a big part of my highlights. It was pretty tough when she passed away this past year because of COVID. She was only 30 and hadn’t had a chance to live her life yet. She was my assistant for a couple years, too. Getting inducted into the New Mexico Baseball/Softball Hall of Fame and the Cibola High School Hall of Fame also meant a lot to me.”
Victor is stepping away from the game, but leaving behind a long-lasting legacy.
“I want all my former players to remember those times as good times, you’re only in high school once,” he said. “I also want them to know how much I supported them, and I hope I was able to teach them life lessons. That’s what it’s all about, preparing young men and women for when they move on.”
The Cougars have not announced Victor’s replacement.
‘Time is right,’ Part II
After three-and-a-half decades of coaching, Ray Rodriguez decided to step away from the game, retiring as head boys basketball coach at Cibola.
“You look up and suddenly it’s been 35 years as a head coach,” said Rodriguez, chatting with Murrieta. “The older guys I knew always told me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time,’ and
they were right. I felt like it was time.”
During his time as a head coach, Rodriguez racked up 503 wins. He started his coaching career during the 1987-88 season when he took over the program at Highland High School, his alma mater.
“I remember we played Cibola in the opener and Phil Schroer was the head coach at the time,” Rodriguez recalled. “We’d been known for our man defense. It’s funny because for most of that game we played a match-up zone. That’s what I remember the most.
“Back then, I was doing the same things then that I do now, cleaning spots on the floor during the JV game, all that stuff. Not much has changed. As a head coach, you do it all — no job is too big or too small. It was nice to get my first head coaching job from a school I graduated from.”
Rodriguez, 62, led the Hornets to state championship games in 1992 and ’93. After seven seasons as Highland’s head coach, he spent four years coaching basketball in Seattle. He returned to the Land of Enchantment to take over the program at Cibola, where he spent 24 seasons in charge of the Cougars. Rodriguez led Cibola to the state championship game in 2004, falling short against Eldorado, 45-41.
Rodriguez said he’s had a passion for basketball his entire life.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and a coach,” he said. “Basketball is a really good sport and vehicle to teach life skills and discipline to kids.
“I hope all the kids I coached know that I put everything I had into it,” he added. “I was always prepared and put them in the position to be successful. We had some tough practices where my main goal was to get them to believe they can overcome difficult things. We had this one drill where they had to make three perfect stops, or we would start over. To this day, I have kids that come up to me and say, ‘That drill taught me I could continue when I thought I couldn’t.’ That will help them overcome obstacles and tough times in life.”
Former Española Valley coach Gabe Martinez will take over the Cougars.
As for Rodriguez, he will remain the athletic director at Cibola, a job he’s had for 10 years.