Commentary: Santa Rosa latest to not renew popular coach’s contract

Coach Juan Cipriano

First of all, just let me say I’m an outsider, strictly an observer when it comes to sports in the Rio Grande Valley.

I don’t claim to be privy to any inside information. You see things happen, and as a reporter your job is to remain objective.

The big news in Valley sports last week came out of Santa Rosa as the contract of Warriors athletic director and boys basketball coach Johnny Cipriano was not renewed.

It’s not surprising the Santa Rosa ISD school board members have been tight-lipped about the reason(s) behind their non-renewal decision, by a 4-3 vote, last Wednesday.

If Cipriano’s basketball record had been subpar, it would be much easier to understand the move and it certainly wouldn’t have created such a stir.

But in 22 years as the Warriors’ basketball coach, Cipriano’s teams have captured 16 district titles or co-championships, made nine “Sweet 16” appearances and advanced to the UIL state tournament three times (2009, 2017 and 2018).

No other basketball coach in the Valley past or present has come close to achieving that level of success.

So what’s the reason for this move by the Santa Rosa Board of Trustees? It’s a personnel matter, which by law they can’t discuss.

Still, that type of scenario just opens up all sorts of speculation. If Cipriano’s record wasn’t in question, and with the Santa Rosa community appearing to be pretty much entirely giving its backing to “Coach CP” (approximately 1,000 signatures of Santa Rosa residents on a petition of support for him), it has to be something else.

It’s not the first time a popular Valley basketball coach’s contract hasn’t been renewed, even though the coach’s record was a successful one. Coach Nora Zamarripa at Harlingen High and coach Charles Kromer at Donna High come to mind.

What also came to mind this past week regarding the Cipriano situation in Santa Rosa was what happened to football coach Monty Stumbaugh in Port Isabel following the 2016 season. Stumbaugh had fallen out of favor with the Port Isabel school board, and the trustees voted not to renew his contract.

The Tarpons went 9-2 under Stumbaugh in 2016 and were District 16-4A Division II tri-champions. Stumbaugh was 124-64 over 16 seasons (2001-16) at Port Isabel and had guided the Tarpons to the state semifinals in 2003.

Still, it was not good enough.

Stumbaugh quickly found a job as the coach at Hidalgo, and after two seasons of modest showings (0-10 in 2017 and 2-8 in 2018), the Pirates came together under the former Tarpons coach in 2019 by going 8-3 and earning a trip to the playoffs.

Meanwhile, football-crazy Port Isabel has gone 9-19 since Stumbaugh departed under Jaime Infante (2-7 in 2017) and Jason Strunk (4-5 in 2018 and 3-7 in 2019). The Tarpons are still searching for a winning coach.

When change comes, good coaches, like Stumbaugh, always land on their feet somewhere, just as Cipriano is expected to do.

The question now becomes, what will happen to boys basketball in Santa Rosa?