SAN ANTONIO – In all the years he was head football coach at Harlandale High School, Isaac Martinez never aspired to become athletic director of the Harlandale Independent School District someday. It just worked out that way.

In a sense, he’s a lot like his predecessor, Rudy De Los Santos, who also had a long career as a Harlandale football coach before becoming HISD athletic director in January 1996. De Los Santos resigned in April after 21½ years in the AD’s chair, but he will remain with the district until June 30 to continue helping Martinez with the transition.

Martinez, who joined the Harlandale coaching staff in 1983 and succeeded De Los Santos as head coach in 1994, was hired as athletic director last month.

“I never wanted to be an athletic director,” De Los Santos said Monday. “For a long time, I wouldn’t put anything on the walls of my office because I knew I wasn’t going to be there long. I always thought of myself as a coach.”

As things turned out, De Los Santos stayed on the job and became one of the most respected high school athletic directors in the San Antonio area while leading a program that includes two high schools and four middle schools.

De Los Santos will leave his life as an administrator to return to his first love, coaching football. He joined L.D. Green’s staff at Central Catholic in the spring and will remain with the Buttons as quarterback coach under new head coach Mike Santiago.

De Los Santos, 62, recalled what his mindset was in 1996 when he succeeded Sylvester Perez as HISD athletic director after a two-year stint as head football coach at Weslaco in the Valley.

“I came back because my father was terminally ill,” De Los Santos said. “The idea was to be the AD for a year, and then I was going to go back to coaching. Well, what happened was that they started working on our sports complex, and they asked me to be a part of building it.

“Being athletic director didn’t interest me, but being part of something that was going to be good for kids, like that sports complex, excited me. That was a two-year project, so the one year I intended to stay as AD became three. I applied for different football jobs and didn’t get them. The years snowballed and I stayed as the AD.”

A 1974 Burbank graduate, De Los Santos was honored by his peers in 2012 when he was inducted into the Texas High School Athletic Directors Association Hall of Honor. De Los Santos and former San Antonio ISD athletic director Gil Garza were the first Hispanics to be enshrined in the Hall of Honor, which was established in 1981.

Martinez went 139-110-2 in 23 seasons as head football coach at Harlandale before resigning in March. The Indians won four district championships and made the playoffs 11 times during his tenure. Martinez’s first postseason victory, in 1999, was Harlandale’s first in the playoffs since 1945.

Martinez, 57, said he was looking forward to traveling, spending more time with his family and maybe starting a landscaping business when he stepped down as head coach.

“Those plans are on hold now,” Martinez said, smiling.

Martinez reconsidered his decision after De Los Santos resigned less than a month later.

“I talked to my family about it and realized I was only thinking about myself when I decided to retire from coaching,” Martinez said. “There’s nothing like a new job, a new challenge, to get your juices flowing, like when you became a head coach for the first time.

“It’s get the blood flowing a little faster, gets the heart pumping. You keep thinking to yourself, ‘I can do this.’ You want to do a good job. You don’t want to lose the things that have been in place for so long and have been so effective to help things run smoothly.”

De Los Santos knows Martinez about as well as anybody. He joined M.J. Trammell’s staff at Harlandale in 1982, one year before Martinez came on board, and promoted Martinez to offensive coordinator in 1989 when he succeeded Trammell as head coach. Five years later, De Los Santos handed the reins of the Indians’ program to Martinez.

De Los Santos went 28-22-2 in five seasons, and in 1992 led the Indians to Harlandale’s first district title since 1966. He also was the Indians’ first Hispanic head football coach.

Martinez said he was not surprised when De Los Santos returned to coaching.

“Sometimes he’d come by the field house to visit and he’d ask, ‘Did you see this, did you see that?’ and he’d go to the grease board and start going over a play,” Martinez said, chuckling. “I could see he still had coaching in him and wanted to do it.”

Rudy De Los Santos, left, has handed the reins of the Harlandale Independent School District Athletic Department to former Harlandale football coach Isaac Martinez (right). 
Rudy De Los Santos, left, has handed the reins of the Harlandale Independent School District Athletic Department to former Harlandale football coach Isaac Martinez (right). 

Albert Torres, head football coach at Edison the previous 10 seasons, was hired in mid-April to succeed Martinez. Torres went 52-51 with the Bears, leading them to three playoff appearances and a district crown in 2010. The title was Edison’s first since 1993.

Like Martinez, Torres is an Edison graduate.

Things should be interesting when Central Catholic plays HISD school McCollum and Harlandale in the second and third weeks of the season.

“I hope those are the only two games Central loses all season,” Martinez said, chuckling.

The Buttons play McCollum at Harlandale Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, and host Harlandale eight days later.

“It’s going to be two different types of emotions,” De Los Santos said. “We play Harlandale at Central, and I just never pictured myself lining up against a school I spent 15 years at. Of course, there will be a lot of mixed emotions seeing the maroon and gold across the field.

“Playing McCollum and coming back to Memorial Stadium probably will be just as emotional because for 21 years this has been home. My office has been here at the stadium. Being on the visitors’ side, it’ll be difficult. But it’s something that, as coaches, we know this can happen. But it’s not something that I’m looking forward to.”