A fresh, young face has been hired to coach the Española Valley High School boys basketball team.
Gabe Martinez, current associate head coach of the Northern New Mexico college mens basketball team and assistant athletic director, was announced as the new head coach for the boys basketball program on May 13 at a press conference held at the Española School District's Educational Services Center.
He succeeds James Branch, who was not rehired for the position after posting a 45-12 record in two seasons at the helm, including back-to-back undefeated seasons in district play.
Although never holding a high school head coaching position, Martinez’s overall basketball experience has a strong backbone. While at Northern as a player he was twice the conference player of the year and was selected as an NAIA All-American, while ending his career as the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer.
His only high school experience as a coach was while working in the Albuquerque Public Schools system at Sandia High School as an assistant coach from 2015-17.
Martinez was also a physical education teacher while at Sandia. There, he said got into an alternate licensure program and he holds his endorsement in physical education. Once his contract at Northern ends — about two weeks before the start of the 2019-2020 school year at Española — he said he plans to take on any teaching position that will be open to his skillset. He would also be able to teach business or math classes alongside physical education, based on his bachelor’s degree in business administration/management.
Española School District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said Martinez has, “only been hired for coaching at this point,” and the school cannot hire him for a teaching position until he finishes his alternative license program.
On the court, Martinez plans to bring an exciting style of play, while still holding his players to a system. The idea is to incorporate the right mixture of both.
“I like to run a system but within the system, I want to give the players freedom to be basketball players,” Martinez said. “I do the best of both worlds and there’s coaches out there that run a very strict system and it’s kind of like an old school mentality of playing.”
It wasn’t just his on-the-court visions that impressed the hiring committee and final decision makers in Gutierrez, acting principal Victoria Gonzales and athletic director Theresa Flores. Martinez’s off-the-court aspirations and policies for players played a huge role in his winning of the job, as well as his lack of an old school approach.
“He was really just a breath of fresh air and he can bring a fresh approach to the program,” Gutierrez said. “The thing that set him apart in the final interviews was his expectations for grades, and he said, ‘It’s not the athletic director’s, but it’s my responsibility to double check things and follow up, because if there’s trouble in the classroom there will be trouble on the court.’”
The hiring committee for the position was constructed of girls basketball head coach Joe Estrada, counselor and track and field head coach Landen Elliott-Knaggs, testing coordinator Matthew Abeyta, Jason Duda and junior basketball player Mario Eguino.
They had the pleasure of sifting through a total of 11 applicants’ resumes, and six made the list of ‘considered’ applicants. Of those were Mesa Vista High School girls head coach Bobby Romero, Los Lunas High School boys head coach Travis Julian, Mora head coach Marco Sanchez, former Deming High School boys head coach Juan Alvarado and current Santa Fe High School social studies teacher and Taos High School track and field jump coach Ernest Rodriguez. Romero said he declined the interview because he was rehired at Mesa Vista. Julian also declined his interview invitation, while Sanchez failed to respond to the interview request.
Rodriguez was the second finalist to receive a second interview along with Martinez. According to the ‘interview new employee hire recommendation’ form, Martinez scored 301 points on his interview, compared to Rodriguez’s 289.
Martinez was unable to say what he thought separated himself during the interview process, but like Gutierrez said, he thought his ability to better relate with the players played a part.
“It’s like being able to see through two lenses,” Martinez said. “Through a coaching lens, I’ve been coaching for over six years now consecutively. Just having an outlook as a coach and still being able to relate to the players, I can do that because I was in their shoes at one time not too long ago. I kinda know what players are feeling and the different emotions they go through during basketball, school and during different things that come up in life.”
Española lost in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament this past season to Del Norte and they lose four senior starters in Ryan Trujillo, Brian Martinez, Justino Rascon and Gabriel Serrano.
“I’m excited to be a part of the program because I know there is a rich culture, community and I’m excited to be up north,” the new head coach said. “I’m excited to continue the winning tradition and, ‘Go Sundevils, man,’ I’m excited.”