There were long pauses and a cracked voice more than once as former Marcos de Niza football coach tried to get his thoughts around the past 19 years.
Despite, he said, being “cleared of all the allegations” which led to his being put on "administrative leave" by the school and Tempe Union School District before his team’s first-round playoff game last month, Lopez resigned as the Padres coach late this week, a move he said was done “for family and personal reasons” and done of his own volition.
Marcos de Niza athletic director Mike Griffith didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Lopez told his players on Friday, and wouldn’t discuss any details which led to his leave of absence which began in early November. He never returned, and the Padres eventually fell to Chaparral in the Division II quarterfinals.
Lopez arrived as an assistant to former coach Tom Joseph in 1996 (he began teaching at the school in 1995) and took over the program in 2003 when Joseph went to Mountain View. Since then the Padres became regular playoff participants, and, in the past five years, made a couple deep playoff runs in Class 5A-II and now Div. II.
Named coach of the year twice by his peers (2007 and 2009), Lopez was 88-32 in his decade as the school’s coach, including a state championship game appearance (2007), three semifinals and three quarterfinals.
Though anxious to get back into coaching elsewhere – as a head coach or assistant – he also spoke of seeing his son, Roy Lopez III play. The sophomore is a 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive lineman.
“It was the right time (to leave), and hard for me and my family to go through this,” he said Friday afternoon. “It’s really hard. It was just the right thing to do. It’s crazy because we have a really good sophomore and junior class, but I have to take care of myself a little bit better. I need to attend to some personal matters and see my kids are taken care of.
“I’m very proud of the boys who come from (Marcos). It’s such a diverse school culturally and financially, the faculty and administration support was unbelievable, as was the booster club. I’m really blessed to have those surrounding me. I couldn’t have picked a better place to be.”
No longer teaching at the school, Lopez has a few weeks to find a new destination for teaching and (possibly) coaching. He struggled at times trying to enunciate what being at a different school would be like, and there’s a possibility he finds other work to “just be a dad.”
He acknowledged already hearing from a few coaches in the Valley, and while time may be of the essence for financial reasons, the next coaching job he’s offered may or may not be the one he accepts.
“If there’s something that comes up that’s really good, hopefully I’ll get it. If not, I’ll restart and get a new slate getting started right away, and prioritize things in my life,” he said. “I still want to be a head coach at some point, it has to be the right place. I don’t need to jump in somewhere and have it somewhere, but a place where my son can be successful.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.