Richard Sanchez, the dean of Southern Arizona high school football coaches with the most wins among active coaches, is in the process of hiring his staff at Tucson High School after his official hire to lead the Badgers’ program.
“I’m trying to get a staff together right now, and everyone I spoken to, they’re up for the challenge,” Sanchez said. “We want to compete and be a force in 6A.”
Sanchez comes to Tucson with two state football championships at Sunnyside in 2001 and 2003 as well as five consecutive state titles as the Blue Devils’ wrestling coach from 1990-94.
He coached a Santa Rita program the previous three years that is beset by declining enrollment. The Eagles were reclassified from 3A to 2A in 2018 because of an enrollment of less than 400 after having more than 1,000 students less than 10 years ago.
Sanchez’s career win total of 161 games, with a record of 161-77, is the most among active coaches in Southern Arizona, topping Mica Mountain’s Pat Nugent (138-57), Benson’s Chris Determan (134-82-1) and Mountain View’s Matt Johnson (120-67).
His 21 years as a head coach makes him the dean of local high school football coaches. Benson’s Chris Determan is next at 20 years, followed by Nugent with 18 years.
Sanchez is not concerned about the length of time between his championship years at Sunnyside to now, and possibly not having the name recognition among high school-age players presently.
“I’m going to talk to the kids; I’m going to talk to parents, and I hope that we’re going into a situation where the kids want to win the state championship and want to be the best,” Sanchez said. “When you’ve got a good number of kids that are hungry to win and be in a championship game and possibly win it, I think the learning curve is not as long as if you went to a place where they have no idea that they want to win.”
Sanchez is taking over at Tucson after Justin Argraves coached the Badgers for 10 years and compiled a 56-50 record. Argraves was hired by Cienega after Nugent left that program to become the coach at Mica Mountain, a school that will be in its second year of operation in 2021-22.
Among the challenges the Badgers face: being the only 6A team in Southern Arizona (which requires traveling to Mesa and Tempe to play against region opponents in the 6A East Valley), stringent TUSD eligibility requirements and being the most visible school in Tucson because of its history and immense alumni base.
“They’ve got great numbers in student enrollment wise (more than 3,000 as a magnet school) and I keep hearing that they got great support there,” Sanchez said. “That helped my decision to go after the job, and I like the challenge of competing at the big division.”
Sanchez added that he relishes the opportunity to travel to Phoenix to represent Tucson’s brand of football.
As head coach the last three years at Santa Rita, Sanchez traveled many times to rural communities like Benson, Bisbee, Willcox and Thatcher to play football games, so being on a bus for extended period of time is not bothersome to him.
“When I was at Sunnyside, I used to fight with people that made our schedules because they would force us to play nine games in Tucson, and they would try to give us one game in Phoenix,” said Sanchez, a Pueblo High School and University of Arizona graduate.
“I said, ‘No, that’s not what I want. I want to travel to Phoenix.’ The traveling doesn’t bother me.”
Sanchez also has the experience of developing Sunnyside and Santa Rita into more competitive programs.
“We kind of have that blueprint, and we just have to make it fit for the Tucson High kids and tweak it a little bit,” Sanchez said. “And then, you know, from there it’s work. There’s no substitute for work.”
The Blue Devils reached the postseason 14 times in Sanchez’s 18 seasons at Sunnyside. In the five seasons before Sanchez took over at Sunnyside, the Blue Devils were 27-26 and only had won one postseason game.
After going 0-10 in his first season (2018) at Santa Rita, Sanchez coached the Eagles to a 3-7 record in 2019. Last season, Santa Rita was limited to only two games with a sparse roster because of COVID-19. In the eight years before Sanchez coached there, the Eagles had a record of 10-68.
“The first two years we took over at Santa Rita, we could not even have spring ball; we had one kid in the weight room,” Sanchez said. “When football started, I was trying to get kids eligible and I had six kids at a football practice.
“It got to the point last spring before COVID hit, we had 40 kids working out five days a week. We were going to go on spring break last year and then come back into spring ball. COVID came around and I lost 14 of those kids during the COVID time. We had 40 kids in weight training five days a week. That shows the kids were starting to learn about the grind that they were going to get involved with if they wanted to win. They were starting to put in that time and then this dang COVID came in and just buried us.”
Sanchez suffered from COVID-19 in recent months but he is healthy again and fully vaccinated.
He is a spry 64 years old and feels ready for the demands of coaching and teaching at Tucson High.
“I hope to get the whole city of Tucson interested in Tucson High football,” he said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.