Jan. 31, 2021

By Greg Selber

Want to talk basketball with Rudy Garcia? No worries, he’ll do that all day, because he’s always loved the game, all the way back to his playing days at Edcouch-Elsa HS and then Laredo Junior College. But just don’t expect him to spend too much time talking about himself, because that ain’t gonna happen.

Even as his place in the historical sun has become a reality recently with his 500th career coaching win, the long-time North mentor is more interested in speaking on other subjects, such as family and his players. That’s just the way he is, a guy who has continually sought discipline and modesty, along with success.

“I guess I’ve always been that way really, I think it partly has to do with the way I was raised,” said Garcia, whose Cougars are tied for second place in District 31-6A with three games remaining in the regular season. “Even with the 500 wins business, I mean, the kids on the team did not hear about that from me or the coaches, I think some boosters or parents told them. To me what’s important is the season, the games, the kids. I have never been really comfortable talking about myself or publicizing what I am doing. That’s just not me.”

In a superb career that has seen him man the helm at Sharyland for 12 excellent seasons and then come to North for a great 15-moon trip, Garcia has tried to instill the same attitude in his teams that he and his wife, Thelma, have inculcated in their daughters, Michelle and Brandy.

“We were always on them about discipline, helping them learn and get better at their sports,” Garcia commented. “Brandy was a very successful player and made it to college ball but you would never hear her boasting about it. Same with Michelle, she’s a successful coach but we have all tried to be humble about the things we are accomplishing.”

His path to 500 wins began at B.L. Gray Junior High in Sharyland and quickly Garcia started helping out at the varsity level. He went to North for two seasons on the lower level and then, when the Rattler head job came open, he applied for it and got it in 1994.

“We had our ups and downs over there but I really enjoyed my time at Sharyland,” Garcia recalled. “We had some kids come and go, transfers, that’s just the way it was over there. Plus, in the first round of the playoffs, we often had to play a San Antonio team right off the bat. But still, we were successful and had a lot of good seasons with Sharyland.”

When he came to North, the program had been in a bit of a rough patch, and it took some hard work to resurrect fortunes.

“It did take us awhile, the first three or four years we struggled but gradually we started to come around,” he said. “The thing is, when you get to that fourth year, you’ve had the seniors as freshman, so they know what you want, they came up playing for you. And when the kids buy in, understand why you’re yelling at them, they respond generally.”

Speaking of yelling, that’s something one might not hear much from Garcia. Anymore, anyway.

“Yeah, my wife and I laugh about it because in the early days I would do way more yelling, but gradually I just stopped doing it as much, got quieter,” he chuckled. “And let’s face it, my wife will do enough at the games for me, and truthfully, she is hollering all the things I am thinking; she really knows the game.”

Anyone who has been to a North game knows that Thelma, always impeccably styled, will be there from the get-go, working the refs and building the Coog confidence for 32 minutes. She is a force of nature.

“We first met at Pan Am, she was on the cheerleading squad at the time,” Garcia informed. “And she has always been my biggest supporter. She and the girls, when they were young, they would be there, man, anywhere, from Roma to Brownsville, rooting for the team and I guess for me. The officials will always ask me if my wife is going to be at the game, and the answer is, yes, she is, every time!”

Another interesting aspect of his makeup is the way he deals with assistants. Some coaches always have to be The Man, but Garcia over time has realized that a group approach can be very successful, too. With this in mind, he lets Gabe Pedraza – a former player of his at North by the way – and Gus Cobos, do much of the hollering.

“And it’s even more unique this season because we have all six coaches at the game,” he said. “The other night we were playing the Bears and I was getting pretty mad. I heard some of the kids saying that, ‘Wow, coach is pretty mad, we’d better get going.’ And that is pretty much how it goes. I let my assistants have opportunities to coach, to learn, just like I did, and I think it makes our teams better because everyone is contributing.”

This year has presented the Garcia Way challenges that were unanticipated, mainly the COVID debacle, but he has nothing but good tidings to bring about a group that started 0-3 in district but then fashioned a seven-game winning streak to vault right into the race. He likes the group he has because it’s done the toil.

“I don’t think we have even had a kid miss practice, and that’s something else,” Garcia beamed. “It’s a good group, they do what they have to do and they have improved a lot, especially on the defensive end. That’s where I think we were able to go on a winning streak, because the kids worked so hard on their defense.”

The 2020-21 crew might not get as far as the state Sweet 16, like the Beltrans-led juggernaut of some years back, but Garcia thinks that this is still a special team.

“Sometimes, you have excellent talent, but other times, it’s more of how hard the kids work,” he explained. “When you have the really good talent, you expect them to do well, but I always also liked the teams that overachieved, made the most improvement, etc. We had high expectations for this group, and they are coming through, but they have also had the right attitude and work ethic.”

As for the 500-win achievement, well, Garcia is certainly happy to have reached it, though he admits good-naturedly that the run-up to the milestone was a little taxing.

“Right, everyone was like, ‘Alright four to go, three to go,’ that sort of thing,” he sighed. “But I was just trying not to think about, just doing my job and enjoying the kids and the games. I know it’s a very good accomplishment, not many coaches get there, and you look at some of the names that have, Roy Garcia, Robert Capello, Joe Filoteo, that’s good company. But I have never talked about it that much. I am really more focused on trying to get a high playoff seed and then make a run in the playoffs. We really want to win a bi-district championship this season, that’s the goal.”

Through 27 years in the head coaching business, Garcia has learned much about working with kids, understanding them, and helping them. In a way, he has treated the players like members of his family, and the results have taken care of themselves.

“You have to know the type of guy you have, who responds to what type of motivation,” he noted. “It boils down to discipline, being humble, and getting the most out of your kids. Go out and play and perform, that’s what we always told Brandy and Michelle. Do your best and the rest will be fine.”

Words to live by for a fellow who has steadily earned his niche as one of the Valley’s best coaches, with minimum fanfare, glitz or glamour. Yes, Rudy Garcia reached the 500-win plateau this season, but the heart of his life’s work has always been about much more than wins and losses. His refreshingly dignified and self-effacing approach has paid off in tremendous ways. He’s made his bones, as they say, and made them big. Just don’t count on him to be talking too much about it, present article notwithstanding, of course.

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