McCurdy fires football coach, shutters program for 1 year

Ron Gallegos, center, talks to the McCurdy football team in 2017. McCurdy fired Gallegos and is shutting down the program for one year. Will Webber/New Mexican file photo

McCurdy School is doing more than hitting the reset button on its football program.

Christian Lopez, the school’s athletic coordinator, said Wednesday the school is not only looking for a new head coach after letting Ron Gallegos go after four seasons, but will shut down the program for the 2019 season for safety concerns after several players were declared ineligible to play at the end of the school year.

Lopez said the decision came last week once the spring semester ended and almost half of what was expected to be a 26-player roster failed to make grades.

“I did grade [checks] about four times toward the end of the school year last year,” Lopez said. “Once we archived their final grades for the year, we just had to go in and say we didn’t have enough kids.”

The move coincided with Gallegos’ firing, a move that did not sit well with him. Gallegos said he felt like he was targeted by the administration over maintenance of the football field, mentioning a disagreement with school administrators over its use for McCurdy’s graduation ceremony.

Gallegos guided the Bobcats to a 13-28 record during his tenure, and helped them reach the Class 3A quarterfinals in 2016.

“I tried to compromise and say, ‘Let’s use the field from the end zone out. You don’t need all of that room,’ ” Gallegos said. “One of the McCurdy Charter principals said, ‘Don’t. That’s McCurdy Charter School property. We use it how we want.’ And I said, ‘OK, then. You take care of [the field].’ ”

Gallegos said administrators then changed the locks to the field and would not give him a key to access it. When he told the maintenance director about flooding the field with water last week, Gallegos said he was abruptly fired. Gallegos added that he is concerned that the shutdown isn’t just a temporary measure, adding that he feels it is being used as an excuse to disband the program altogether.

“I don’t care if I don’t coach, but I don’t to lose that program,” said Gallegos, who spent the past 10 years as an assistant and head coach at the school. “That would be devastating. I’ve got three kids who are being looked at by colleges. They might be NAIA, Division II, junior colleges, but they have an opportunity to play.”

Lopez, though, said the last thing he and administrators want to do is eliminate football. He added that the program came perilously close to forfeiting most of the 2018 season when the Bobcats were down to 15 players after injuries and a suspension of a key lineman heading into the second week of the season. As it was, McCurdy forfeited the game that week against Cuba as it went 1-8.

“It was hard to participate last year,” Lopez said. “We forfeited one game and contemplated forfeiting another. We just didn’t have enough kids to safely build a team we could put on the field.”

Gallegos questioned Lopez’s concerns about eligibility, saying he had 26 players who would take the field next year anyway. Lopez contended, however, that Gallegos came up with that figure by going through the registry to find prospective players, but there were still eligibility issues.

Lopez said the “No F’s” policy instituted by the New Mexico Activities Association last year effectively made most of the available players unable to play.

“We have to use semester grades, and that’s what we used,” Lopez said. “There were kids who had the eligibility [grade point-wise], but they had the F. You can’t do that any more.”

Lopez said McCurdy will try to maintain its middle school program while looking for a new varsity head coach, adding that he approached Cecil Brown, who guided the program from 1997 to 2002 and was an assistant the past four seasons, to help with the middle school as well as possibly taking the reins once again at the high school level.

“If we feel that, after the season, we need somebody with more experience building a program, we’ll open it up for other coaches,” Lopez said. “We just want to be fair in the process.”

There will be a trickle-down effect in District 1/5-2A. What was once a district with six teams prior to the 2018 season will have just three in 2019 — Escalante, Newcomb and Albuquerque Mission Achievement and Success. Dusty Giles, the Escalante head coach, said Lopez made the rest of the district coaches aware of McCurdy’s decision last week, but finding a varsity team to fill the opening for the weekend of Oct. 11-12 will be difficult.

What was more important to Giles, though, is that another school in the district won’t be playing football. Dulce, which canceled the 2018 season, will compete in eight-man football, and Questa will play as an independent after forfeiting the final few games in each of the past two seasons.

“It’s a little bit frustrating seeing this, because I know kids like to play football,” Giles said. “It’s not good to watch schools not have football. That is just not good for the boys.”

Teams interested in playing Escalante to fill its opening can contact Giles at dgiles@chamaschools.org or call 505-401-9168.