It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Carlos Enrico became an institution within an institution during his 40-year career in the Central Catholic High School athletic department.
Even after he retired from coaching early in 2011, Enrico remained synonymous with Central as the school’s athletic director.
“I know a lot of stuff from behind the scenes, and I can tell you that Carlos is the heart and soul of that place,” Father John Markey, a 1980 Central graduate, said Tuesday.
A 1972 Central graduate, Enrico returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in 1976 and was promoted to head football coach and athletic director in 1987. He held the dual position until ending his 24-year tenure as head coach.
Central announced Enrico’s retirement Tuesday, a week after introducing Hector Rodriguez as the Buttons’ new athletic director. Enrico will remain at the private, all-boys Marianist school temporarily as athletic director emeritus, helping Rodriguez with the transition.
“I’ll stay for as long as Hector needs me and then ride into the sunset,” Enrico said. “I’m ready. It was my decision to retire. I just felt it was time.”
Enrico, who turns 63 on Aug. 12, has split his time this month between emptying his office and working closely with Rodriguez.
“Do you know how many days it takes to clean out an office with 40 years of stuff in it?” Enrico said, laughing. “Man, you talk about memories. I’ve found old, yellow newspaper articles, letters, game programs, thank-you notes, all kinds of stuff.”
Known for his affable nature, sarcasm and biting sense of humor, Enrico is also given to warm sentiment when it comes to two things: his family and his beloved Central.
“The fierce loyalty to Central always has translated into this tough guy with the softest heart,” said Markey, whose three brothers played football for Enrico. “He is the friend of the friendless and the help to the underdog. He’ll never tell you, but I know that that man has done more to help young men at Central on a level beyond just the field.
“Guys that needed support or were just having a tough go of it – and not just athletes – Carlos was always there to listen to them and give them a shoulder to lean on. He was that kind of guy to them. In some ways, he was the tough, sarcastic SOB. It cuts both ways. He’d hate me to say how tender-hearted he is.”
Clearing his office has been emotionally tougher on Enrico than he thought before he started.
“The hardest thing is when I’m by myself [packing boxes],” Enrico said. “I found a box that has all the game films by years, and I found so many photos of former players. I know where a lot of these guys are. The photos bring back a lot of memories. I look at the newspaper articles and say, 'We should have won that game.'"
Enrico’s most cherished mementos are the notes and cards he received from former players and parents (mostly mothers) throughout his long tenure.
“I kept two of the biggest notes in my desk drawer and when I was having a bad day, I would just reach in, get a note, read it, and then I’d put it back and I felt better,” Enrico said. “It kept you going. It really did.
“This is before the internet. People would write and send thank-you notes, send you cards. Carmen (his wife) and I were going through them one day and I said, ‘Honey, look at this, the majority are from mothers.’ They’d write, ‘Thank you for helping my son.'"
Carmen Enrico declined to comment for this story.
"I think she was afraid she would start crying," Enrico said.
Enrico added that the notes and cards he collected over the years filled four Manila folder bags.
“That means a lot,” he said. “I’m going to tell our young teachers about that. In this day, when there’s so much negativity and you get a nice email, print it and save it. And when you’re having a bad day, reach in your desk and read it.”
Enrico was still a senior at Southwest Texas State in 1976 when he was hired as an assistant coach at Central by Harold Keller. He remained on the Buttons staff for 11 seasons, working under Mike Garner and Sonny Detmer before succeeding Marshall Fleener as head coach in 1987.
Enrico went 159-107-2 in his 24 seasons as head coach, leading the Buttons to a TCIL state championships in 1990 and a TAPPS state title in 2001. The 2001 title game was played on the day of the funeral of his brother’s wife. Enrico has vivid, poignant memories of that day.
“My brother had the funeral Mass in the morning so I could get to the game,” Enrico said. “The team went on to the game in Killeen ahead of me. My assistant coaches took them up there.”
A brother-in-law of Enrico, an Army captain stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, drove Enrico to the game.
Enrico recalled that he saw Father Jimmy Drennan, a former San Antonio police officer who became a priest, on the Central sideline before the game.
“My head was all over the place and I was looking at my play card,” Enrico said. “I’ll never forget this. He tells me, ‘Hey, coach, don’t worry about it. We’ve got this one in the bag. I have 12 nuns at this one convent praying for us. We got this.’ I looked at him and I was like, ‘Ok.’ And we did it.”
The Buttons beat Houston St. Thomas 38-28 for the TAPPS Class 5A championship.
Brian Mason was a junior outside linebacker on the team that defeated Dallas Jesuit for the 1990 TCIL state title. Now 43 and the owner of an accounting firm in San Antonio, Mason spoke of Enrico’s strong influence as a coach and mentor.
“He was someone who could be intimidating because he was such a disciplinarian, but when you went back to Central, he was always ready to shake your hand and pat you on the back,” Mason said. “He wanted to know how you were doing and what you were doing in life.”
Mason recalled the empathy Enrico demonstrated when Mason’s uncle, Bobby Oertling, who graduated from Central with Enrico, died during the 1989 season.
“I was a sophomore on the junior varsity and my brother (Bill) was a senior on the varsity,” Mason said. “Coach Enrico called us into his office and I thought maybe we had done something wrong.
“He just wanted to tell us that he was sorry about our uncle, and that if we needed time to step back and take some time off, it was fine with him. He told us to call him if we ever needed anything. I’ve never forgotten that.”
A standout track athlete at Central, Enrico took pride in the school’s entire athletic program. The Buttons won 20 state titles in eight different sports – football (1990, 2001), basketball (1991, 1998), track (1982, 2001), baseball (1984), cross country (1996, 2007), tennis (1997, 1998, 1999), soccer (1987, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2017) and golf (2001, 2003).
“Coach Enrico has always been there for his players and many others,” Eddie Ybarra, Central vice president of student development, said in a press release.
A 1983 Central graduate, Ybarra was also the Buttons basketball coach before going into administration.
“Through his relationships with the young men of Central Catholic, he has built everlasting bonds that tie him directly into the mission of our beloved school,” Ybarra said in the release. “This goes beyond any win-loss record. He is a true coach!”
Enrico was named TCIL Track Coach of the Year in 1982 and TAPPS 5A Football Coach of the Year in 2002. He also served as a head coach for the San Antonio high school all-star football game from 1986 to 2000.
Enrico will be honored at Central’s first home football game this season on Friday, Sept. 15. The Buttons play Harlandale that night.