There was a time when Greg Gano cared about where his next CIF championship ring was going to come from.
When you win four, it can be addicting. Those days have quickly gone, though. Gano, whether by choice or error, has been rapidly adding chapters to his career in recent years. And that’s not always a good sign for a coach.
The latest and perhaps final chapter for Gano is at Wilson High School. Yes, the same Wilson that’s just down the road from where Gano cemented his name with some of the industry’s best coaches at Los Altos.
Gano’s arrival at the Hacienda Heights campus is a culmination of events that has led the Valley legend to become reflective and less hell bent on wins and losses at a time when most his coaches his age would trying to salt their legacy.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m the same guy I was in 2002,” Gano said before practice on Monday afternoon. “But it’s not about me anymore. I want our kids to feel that I care about them. That is the main focus that I had coming into this year, is that the kids know I care about them and what they’re doing on and off the football field.”
Gano’s career has hit several speed bumps since he resigned his position at Los Altos following the 2007 season. After taking a year off, he was hired at Damien in a move that many thought would make the Spartans an area power and maybe more.
It didn’t happen. Following a 20-22 record in four seasons, Gano resigned and promised he wouldn’t be out of coaching long. He wasn’t. Gano was soon the head coach at Tustin. But that was over soon after it got started and Gano was out at Tustin after an 0-4 start in 2013.
“It didn’t work at Damien,” Gano said. “I was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. So be it. We did some good things over there. We played some good people. Tustin was an unfortunate situation. Again, wrong place at the wrong time.”
The bitter endings at his past two stops have led some to wonder whether Gano should have ever left Los Altos after he was so successful following in the footsteps of another legend Dwayne DeSpain.
“Do I regret it?” Gano said. “There are times when I’ve thought I shouldn’t have left LA. Yeah, that thought’s crossed my mind. You always think the grass is greener on the other side and it’s not. But it was a year where I was really tired and I wanted to spend more time with my daughter Courtney.”
It’s in his daughter Courtney, a former area softball standout who now plays at Washington, that Gano finds most of his inspiration from these days. And it’s through an unfortunate health issue that Courtney has recently encountered that Gano has gained perspective about what’s really important.
While running the bases during practice in March, Courtney Gano collapsed unable to feel her feet. She was rushed to the hospital and later given the diagnosis of Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIDP. It’s a condition in which there’s progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms.
“It took its toll,” Gano said. “When you get a phone call from the head coach that your daughter is in the emergency room and they don’t know what’s wrong, but she can’t walk and can’t throw a ball five feet, yeah, it takes its toll. It’s kind of frightening.”
After undergoing treatment, Courtney Gano is on the path to recovery. She has one more round of treatment but is already rehabbing and on track to play this season for Washington. Meanwhile, her father is on track to hopefully rebuild a once-proud program that’s gone dormant. But it won’t be easy.
The struggles Los Altos incurred after Gano left are now a distant memory. Although the Conquerors haven’t added another CIF championship since Gano left, they’re back to being one of the area’s top programs. That’s going to make things very difficult at Wilson in terms of securing the school district’s top talent.
While Gano isn’t as bent on winning as he once was, his fuse is clearly still lit. The first challenge will be improving the program’s numbers, which sit at around 60 players between varsity and junior varsity, and about 40 at the freshmen level.
The next step will be improving the talent level, which Gano admits is considerably lighter than what he’s used to, but hopefully enough to compete in the Valle Vista League where defending CIF Mid-Valley Division champion San Dimas rules the roost.
Wilson ran a Wing-T offense under previous coach Nick Christos. Gano is switching the program to his pro-style attack. He’s doing so with a smallish coaching staff, but longtime defensive coordinator Lee Fair is back at Gano’s side.
Mark Sept. 12 on your calendars. That’s the night when Gano will play Los Altos for the first time since he left. And to add to the intrigue, the game is at Los Altos.
“I’ll say what I said when I took this job, Greg Gano doesn’t have the magic wand,” Gano said. “We’re going to coach the kids up and we’re going to have at it. We have to change the culture back to have the kids think highly of football at Wilson High School.
“I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need rings. I don’t need to win 500 games in the next five years and that’s okay. I need to coach kids and watch my daughter grow up.”