Kenny Donovan replaces Tom Gregory at Ayala

An era is over at Ayala High School, and this time it appears to be for good.

Tom Gregory, who has coached the boys basketball team every year since the school opened in 1990 except for one (when he resigned for the year) has been dismissed as coach by principal Mike Vaughn and replaced by Kenny Donovan, who was the JV coach and previously had been a head coach at Diamond Ranch and Azusa.

That whole story can be read in Saturday’s paper.

But I wanted to address a couple of thoughts, not addressed in that story. One, should it have happened?

If it was about wins and losses, then definitely not. But Vaughn said it wasn’t about that and was about “different philosophies.” If that’s true, then I can’t say whether it should have happened. But it does help to have an administration and coach on the same page. Gregory mentioned that the “support system was different than what it was before.” I took that to mean that he didn’t feel like he had the administration’s support. It’s hard to coach without that support, especially in an environment like Ayala’s. It’s a shame it came to this, but maybe it was best for both parties. Although not necessarily best for the program and the kids.

Second, why did it happen?

Vaughn mentioned different philosophies, and maybe part of that is Vaughn’s vision for the school. “We need to ask ourselves what do we expect from our students,” Vaughn said. “If we set goals and they meet them, what do we do next? And if they’re not succeeding, then we need to think what we’re going to do to help them succeed.” Vaughn didn’t get real specific, but I could see how this vision could pertain to athletics. Maybe Vaughn felt Gregory wasn’t motivating in the right way, or helping those lesser players like he should. When I asked Vaughn if Gregory was on board with this philosophy, he said. “maybe he was slow to respond to it.”

Third, did parents have a role?

Possibly. It seems to be Vaughn’s decision, but if every parent had supported Gregory, I’d be surprised if Gregory had been dismissed. Gregory said, “I will say this, the support from the majority of the parents and all the players has been incredible.” Parents drove Gregory to step down seven years ago, then were the driving force to bring him back. I’d be surprised if they can get him back this time, especially with the current administration in charge.

Fourth, will Gregory coach again?

I get the impression he will. He wants to have a coaching avenue for his son Kyle, who has served as an assistant of his the last two years. And who knows, maybe it could be sooner rather than later. Gregory lives in Riverside so if he were to look at another coaching job, it would likely be between Chino Hills and Riverside. With about 20 years in the district, Gregory would take a big pay cut to teach elsewhere, but he might not have to worry about that because there won’t be any teaching jobs elsewhere for next year. There might be more off-campus coaches in all sports at all schools, including boys basketball next year, so that might work out OK for him. But, it has to be a school on board with his “old school” style.

Fifth, how will Kenny Donovan do?

It helps that many of the parents know him and he knows the school and the atmosphere there. Because it is a high-pressure job. The honeymoon will be short, to be sure. As Donovan said on Friday, “I said to the kids, ‘you have the easy job. Don’t worry. If we lose a game, it’s going to fall on me. You’re not going to get blamed.'” When Gregory stepped down before, Ayala went 12-17 that season, ending a string of 10 consecutive CIF quarterfinal appearances. When Gregory returned, Ayala went back to the quarterfinals. ‘I think he’ll be fine,” Gregory said of Donovan. “His approach and demeanor is much more of a fit for the school.”




  • sierraleaguefan

    Is the same thing going to happen in baseball? There are rumors about coach Bowler being forced out if he does not win this year?

  • Pete Marshall

    It could be, but I don’t know anything about those rumors. But I think the situation with coach Gregory honestly had to do more with things other than wins and losses, as principal Mike Vaughn said. It was probably partially his disciplined coaching style. Tom Gregory’s been at Ayala a lot longer than Kevin Bowler, and is a teacher too. So, I’m guessing it could happen, but I think the two situations are not identical. Coaches also tend to get weary from the parental pressure and they step down whether they were asked to or not, so that could happen with any coach in any high-pressure coaching job.

  • john stro

    Dear reader,
    My name is John Strosnider, I am a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve currently in Marjah Afghanistan. My civilian job is a Deputy Sheriff with L.A. County. I grew up going to Coach Gregory’s famous Basketball Camps, and had the honor of playing for his Bulldog Program all four years at Ayala. I can honestly say, I would not be the man I am today without having had him as a mentor and coach growing up. When I read this article I was taken back when I read that Coach’s philosophy was old school and not in the best interest of the school.
    I tell a story to my junior Marines that I grew up hearing from Coach Gregory every year that embodies success. The story was originally told by Coach Pat Riley and was retold by Coach every year since at Ayala. The story is famous in Chino Hills, its the story of Black Gold.
    “There was this old farmer who had a horse who loved to run. Every day the farmer would watch this horse race against every animal that existed on that farm. The owner noticed that this horse was pretty fast. The horse had never had a bath, didn’t look like your typical running horse, never been combed, never been ridden, heck the horse was just plain dirty. But it loved to run. One day the owner registered Black Gold in a local race. Suddenly Black Gold felt this weight on his back he had never felt, he was shoved into a running box, and he realized he was next to two much larger horses, nearly two feet taller. But you know what? Black Gold didn’t care.
    The gates opened and Black Gold was off, he left the rest of the horses in the dust.
    The owner was suprised and decided to enter him into another race. Black Gold won. Then another and another.
    Pretty soon Black Gold made it to the biggest race of them all… The Kentucky Derby.
    Now everyone at the Kentucky Derby was dressed up in Suits, long formal dresses, black ties. The horses were draped in flowers and clapped as they were called out. The jockies walked proudly beside each champion like horse as they were announced to the crowd with warm applause. Each horse even more applause, until Black Gold. Still never had a bath, smelled, covered in mud, the jockie wouldn’t even walk next to the horse out of embarrassment.
    That didn’t bother Black Gold. Not one Bit. The horses got into their cages and the gun fired off, the race was on. Black Gold ran faster than ever, was half way accross the track as the other horses reached their first turn. Black Gold was on the home stretch nearing the finish line, when suddenly Black Gold got his foot caught in the dirt. Black Gold tumbled and sent the jockie flying forward. The horses ran over Black Gold. Black Gold unable to spring up due to a broken leg… The Jockie Kicking dirt walked off the track. Black Gold gathered himself and limped across the finish line…
    Now whats the moral of the story…
    Most kids say,
    “Never quit.” “always finish” “love to run”
    Coach Gregory would proudly say, “Always give your personal best” He would follow it up with a quote from John Wooden, “All you can ask from a man is for him to give his all from within his span..”
    I love Coach Gregory, and believe his work as mentor and head coach changed the lives of young men on and off the court for over 2 decades. Coach Donavan had big shoes to fill. Big ones.
    Semper Fidelis,
    Sgt John Strosnider
    USMC Stationed in Marjah Afghanistan