SAN ANTONIO – Maybe coaching is like riding a bicycle. You don’t ever forget how to do either.
Nearly 20 pounds lighter and back in coaching for the first time in 22 years, former Harlandale ISD athletic director Rudy De Los Santos is enjoying his first school year of “retirement” as an assistant football coach at Central Catholic.
To hear De Los Santos tell it, he looks forward to every workout, even when the oppressive heat in San Antonio raises the temperature on the artificial turf at Central’s Benson ’66 Stadium well above 100 degrees.
“I was athletic director for 21 years and every year I thought I was going back to coaching,” De Los Santos said this week. “It was never a question of going back to coaching. It was a question of when. Once I retired, I knew I was going to coach somewhere.”
De Los Santos was Harlandale’s AD for 21½ years, to be exact, before he stepped down in June, ending a career in public education that started at Leal Middle School in 1979.
De Los Santos, 62, joined the Central staff in May and coaches the defensive line.
“He was the last coach I hired,” said former athletic director Carlos Enrico, who retired in June.
Central has jumped out to a 2-0 start this season under first-year head coach Mike Santiago, and plays, of all teams, Harlandale (0-2) in its home opener Friday night.
De Los Santos coached at Harlandale for 13 years, including five as head coach from 1989-93, before becoming head coach at Weslaco in 1994. He returned to Harlandale as AD in January 1996.
“I’m going to see a lot of people from Harlandale on Friday night that I really care about,” De Los Santos said. “Just like last week when we played McCollum. Walking into (Harlandale) Memorial Stadium and being on the visitor’s side, that was a big difference. For the first time in my career, I’m up in the press box (during games)."
“So, going up to the Max Konce (former PA announcer) press box last week, it was different. I got a lot of well wishes from the people as I walked up there. There were a lot of mixed emotions. Happy to be back in coaching, but sad that we’re playing a team that I represented for a long time.”
Central rolled to a 39-13 victory over McCollum, the other high school in the Harlandale Independent School District.
Happy to be in his element again, De Los Santos has discovered that coaching really hasn’t changed that much, if at all, since his last season in 1995.
“I’m really appreciative to Central Catholic for giving me an opportunity to get back into coaching,” De Los Santos said. “I feel like I never left. People that I coached with always told me that when I came back, I wouldn’t be able to coach the same way that I coached in the past. I find that not to be true."
“I still coach the same way. Kids are still kids. Kids still want to be disciplined. It’s just been a really good experience. I don’t know what I would have done if I would have retired and just been at home. I think I would have gone crazy. I don’t think I could have handled that.”
Santiago said De Los Santos has been an asset to the coaching staff.
“The experience level he brings, not just knowing football, but knowing San Antonio, knowing districts, he’s just been a great help at organization and all that,” Santiago said. “On the field and off the field.”
It didn’t take De Los Santos long to connect with his players.
“I think he’s a great motivator,” senior defensive lineman Seth McCrum said. “He always has our back. I know that for sure. He’s really good on pressing technique, and to play physical, hard-nosed football. I love Coach already. From the time I got to know him over the summer during strength and conditioning to now, I feel that we’re getting closer and closer each day.”
Junior defensive end Nick Garza likes De Los Santos’ coaching style.
“It’s different than what we used to do, but it’s a good different,” Garza said. “He’s a good motivator. He has different drills and I know they help. It’s a lot about technique. He’s a very good teacher.”
After being out of coaching for so long, De Los Santos did not take lightly the mental and physical challenges of returning to the grind of the job.
“I worked up to it,” De Los Santos said. “I started getting in shape prior to coming out here, really, with my diet. Being on the turf is completely different. Last time I coached, we were all on grass.
“Being on turf for practice, I think I’ve lost a total of 18 pounds. I can attribute a lot of that, hopefully, to my diet, but also being on that turf. It gets up to 125 degrees.”