Former Española Valley head coach set to take over Trojan boys basketball team if he can produce coaching license
Former Española Valley High School boys basketball coach Richard Martinez could be primed for a return to the sidelines next season after a three-year hiatus.
Martinez has officially been offered the head coaching job for the boys basketball team at Mesa Vista High School despite not holding a valid coaching license.
Mesa Vista reopened the position — which they do after every season as per school board policy — and it gave way for Martinez to apply fairly like any other candidate, including head coach of the last two seasons, Benito Maestas, but he will not be returning after the conclusion of the interview process.
To say Martinez is like every other candidate would be far from the truth. He hasn’t coached since 2015-16 when at Española, where he spent 13 years on the sidelines en route to a 253-133 record, two state championships (2011 and 2016) and six semifinal appearances.
Despite all the success on the court, Martinez’s tenure ended in turmoil after agreeing to a deal on May 8, 2017 with the Public Education Department to have his teaching license suspended for a year and his coaching license suspended for two years stemming from a 24-count Contemplated Action Complaint Department officials filed in August 2016 accusing him of abusive treatment of students, ineffective supervision, insubordination, intimidation and financial misconduct.
Martinez was placed on administrative leave once in 2014, in which an investigation found evidence of profanity, use of physicality against student-athletes and bullying and intimidation tactics; and also in 2016 before being terminated by Española School District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez after he failed to meet with her three different times during the duration of his administrative leave.
His letter of termination cited violations of Española School Board policies, including: violation of student privacy, inadequate supervision, mismanagement of resources, allegations of abusive coaching and violations of the Española Valley High School philosophy of the athletic program.
Gutierrez also cited audits finding more than $1,000 missing from fundraisers run by Martinez for the boys basketball program.
Despite his controversial history and lack of a coaching license, Mesa Vista principal and athletic director Manny Lucero said Monday that Martinez was the standout of all those who interviewed for the position and he is the hiring committee’s first recommendation for the job.
Questions regarding the status of Martinez’s license were not included in the interview, but Lucero said since he has already been offered the position,“the ball is in Richard’s court and it will come down to him being able to produce a license.”
“Richard was the top vote-getter,” Lucero said. “We had 15 questions in the interview and rate each one from one to five and you tally up the number at the end and however many he gets is however many he gets. Every interview is the same way and this one wasn’t different than any other.”
Ultimately, the decision will come down to new Mesa Vista Consolidated School District Superintendent Albert Martinez, who began his tenure Tuesday and replaced interim superintendent Joe Gurule. Lucero said there is no set timeline for when Albert Martinez will make his final decision.
“We didn’t ask about the license in the interview, so it’s up to the superintendent to do his due diligence,” Lucero said. “Once we submit the recommendations to him, that’s what he’ll have to do and it’s common protocol. I do hundreds of interviews per year and I don’t discriminate what I read on papers or anything like that. If they applied, that’s their right like anyone else and we treated him fairly.”
Martinez was reached by phone on April 12, but he declined to comment. He was quoted in an April 10 article in the Santa Fe New Mexican saying “I think I have paid my dues and I don’t agree with what happened to me. I feel the way it happened to me was unfair and I stand by it.”
He also told the New Mexican that he is in the final steps of completing the requirements laid out in the original settlement with the Department and is hopeful to get his coaching license back by the end of the month.
Lucero said there has been more support from the community than questions and concerns.
“Most of the feedback I’ve gotten from the community, they’re pretty excited, actually,” he said. “Exactly (it is huge for a 2A program to get a coach with the basketball success and track record of Richard Martinez)."
Maestas had no problem with the yearly reopening of the job when he was hired in 2017-18, but what he thought was unfair was how he found out he wouldn’t be returning. He said he was interviewed by the committee on April 8 and was supposed to hear back from them by April 12.
“I was never told by the school what happened (after the interview process),” Maestas said. “I found out about it on social media, which really annoyed me. I felt my interview went really well and they told me they would be calling me by Friday (April 12) by the latest to let me know if I got it or didn’t get it, but they never did.”
Maestas guided the Trojans to a 22-35 record and a state tournament berth over his two seasons along with assistant coaches Paul Herrera and Julio Trujillo. He felt he didn’t have the adequate time to build the program and said it is tougher to do so at a smaller school because most of the athletes compete in sports year-around, like cross country, track and field and baseball.
“They just wanted to go in a different direction and I wasn’t given the chance to build the program,” Maestas said. “Again, Mesa Vista, the enrollment hurts the school, so you don’t have a big pool of kids to choose from. Every kid who goes there plays other sports, so none of those student-athletes really pick one sport to go year-around. At the bigger schools, like where Richard was at, he had that pool of athletes to choose from and a lot of athletes at those bigger schools will concentrate on that one sport.”
Maestas — also employed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory — said he’s aware of several head coaching openings available, but he still needs the time to sit down with his family to decide what will be the best road for him to take.
Lucero did confirm that girls basketball head coach Bobby Romero will return next season, and he would have opted for Maestas to return if it weren’t for the school board policy to have coaches reapply each season.
“I don’t like that policy and this is the exact reason why,” Lucero said. “Had it been a situation where there was an evaluation process and a recommendation process, I would have recommended both coaches to remain, but since they both had to reapply, they both had to go through the interview process and compete with other individuals. This can happen sometimes when you get someone like a Richard Martinez applying for the job.”