Northeast Lakeview adjunct is serving as interim coach.
By S.R. Garcia
This college has replaced a popular basketball coach who had improved the team’s standing in the two full seasons he coached here.
Men’s basketball coach Louis Martinez is no longer employed at this college, Mark Bigelow, student life interim director, said Feb. 3 in a phone interview with The Ranger.
Martinez had coached the team since 2014, said Steve Ochoa, a math academic program specialist who served as assistant coach under Martinez. Bigelow declined to say why Martinez was let go.
“It is a professional and confidential matter,” he said.
Criminal justice sophomore Steven Walters, who plays center/power forward, said Bigelow pulled Martinez aside during the Feb. 3 practice and spoke to him.
After practice, Martinez told the team that, effective immediately, he was no longer the head coach, Walters said.
Martinez did not return phone calls from The Ranger requesting a comment.
Bigelow said he is committed to the success of the team and has hired an interim coach, Ken Morris, a student development adjunct at Northeast Lakeview College.
Morris will take over the rest of the season. Of two applicants reviewed by Bigelow, Morris was the best fit for the team, Bigelow said.
“We lost a hell of a basketball coach,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa, who was not at the Feb. 3 practice, said he received a text from Martinez that day. After arriving at the gym, Ochoa found Martinez boxing up his things. Ochoa said Martinez told him, “They let me go.”
Ochoa, who has coached basketball for 30 years, said he recognizes a good coach when he sees one. Martinez was one of them, Ochoa said.
“He knows what to do and when to do it in a game,” Ochoa said. “In the three years coach Martinez has been here, I considered him to be a good friend,” Ochoa said.
“The program will really miss him,” he said.
A part-time employee, Martinez was hired as head coach after human resources approved the position, Ochoa said. Before that, volunteers coached the team.
When Martinez took over the Rangers, their record was 4-15, Ochoa said.
In Martinez’s first year of coaching, he led the team to 8-8, making the playoffs but losing the first round.
The next year, the team had a record of 9-7, winning the first round of the playoffs, but losing in the second round.
This year, the team is in first place, Ochoa said.
“I don’t know about the timing of this,” he said. “We’re in first place, the kids love him …”
He continued: “I don’t know if you change horses in midstream like that. If student activities felt that was the change they had to make, we just live with it and move forward. It’s just unfortunate that it happened this way.”
Martinez made an impact on the team’s record and an impact on each of his players.
“Coach Martinez helped me pull up my grades so I could play on the team,” Walters said. “He always inspired me to make the team better.”
Engineering freshman Fabian Chavarria said he was shocked Martinez was let go in the middle of the season.
“He meant a lot to the team, and he’s the reason I’m here,” he said.
Chavarria looks forward to playoffs and will miss practicing with his coach.
“It came as a shock to me,” said business management sophomore Chady Joukeh. Joukeh said he will use this experience as motivation to strive through the playoffs to win the championship. Joukeh also will miss the coach yelling his nickname, “Brazil,” during practice and games.
Kinesiology freshman Adam Villanueva said he is down and disappointed about the news.
“The rest of the season will be different,” he said. Martinez was not only his coach but his friend and role model. Villanueva said he thanks him for everything and wishes him the best.
Morris coached his first game with the Rangers Feb. 8 in Candler Physical Education Center against the Texas A&M-San Antonio Jaguars. The Rangers won 98-67.
“I told them, ‘Look, guys, you’re going to get a new coach, but he is not accountable for what happened to Coach Martinez — you’ve got to give him a chance,’” Ochoa said. “I understand that you’re upset, but you’ve got to support this new guy. Don’t feel like he’s a bad guy, because he’s not. Give him the respect that he deserves.”