They don’t make them like John Romano anymore; legendary coach nearing 600 victories

Dean of the Valley has Nobles fighting for a league crown

By Fred J. Robledo, SGVN twitter@sgvtribpreps
In the dream scenario of all fantasy endings, is there a better script than the possibility of the Nogales High School baseball team running the table to win the Valle Vista League crown and finish on a magical run that ends with a CIF-Southern Section title?

Winning nine in a row to close out the season not only would give veteran coach John Romano his first CIF-SS title, but he would celebrate his 600th coaching victory in his 35th year of coaching the Nobles in a championship game.

It’s a question you probably shouldn’t pose to an old-school, no-nonsense guy like Romano, especially in a sport where superstitions are serious stuff.

“That’s too big to process, way too big,” Romano said. “Where do you get that stuff from? I’m just trying to process Northview on Wednesday. They’re up next.”

But even Romano, who coached legendary alum Cecil Fielder and has been at Nogales since the 1970s, allowed himself a minute to play along.

“I told myself I’m going to coach two more years and retire when I’m 60,” said Romano, who has a career record of 591-316-9. “But if it happened (winning No. 600 in a title game), I would probably walk away from the game forever.

“How do you coach after that?” (To continue click thread)

Cal Hi Sports keeps a record of the winningest high school baseball coaches of all time. With Romano at 591, he should catch San Marino’s Mickey McNamee by next season. McNamee owns the San Gabriel Valley record with 607 career wins. Gladstone’s Rich Remkus isn’t far back, entering the season with 569 career wins.

California’s all-time winningest baseball coaches
1,059 – John Stevenson, El Segundo, 1960-2009 (1,059-419)
879 – Guy Anderson, Cordova of Rancho Cordova, 1965-2012 (879-336-20) (current)
794 – Sam Blalock, San Diego Mt. Carmel 1976-1990 & San Diego Rancho Bernardo, 1991-2012 (794-299) (current)
753 – Dave Demarest, Westminster La Quinta, 1973-2007 (753-213)
723 – Walter “Spud” O’Neil, Colton 1980-1983 & Lakewood, 1984-2012 (723-195) (current)
708 – Mike Noakes, Fresno Bullard 1967, 1970-1996 & Fresno Central, 1997-2003 (708-262-7)
708 – Jeff Stout, Yucaipa, 1976-2012 (current)
683 – Bob Brian, Gustine 1951-1954 & South San Francisco, 1959-2001 (683-412-7)
657 – John Donohue, San Francisco Lowell, 1983-2012 (657-357-2) (current)
651 – Harry Jenkins, Redondo Beach Redondo Union & Torrance West, 1972-2004
645 – Tom Bergeron, Cerritos Gahr, 1972-2004 (645-299-14)
640 – Mike Curran, Santa Fe Springs St. Paul 1977-1982 & Anaheim Esperanza, 1983-2012 (640-269) (current)
634 – Chris Bradford, Mountain View St. Francis, 1974-2004 (634-262-6)
631 – Steve Vickery, Lakeside El Capitan, 1981-2012 (current)
629 – Dennis Pugh, San Diego Mission Bay, 1977-2006 (629-199)
626 – Bob Zamora, Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, 1977-2012 (current)
617 – Gary Cunningham, San Jose Del Mar 1974-1979 & San Jose Bellarmine, 1988-2008 (617-271)
615 – Dan Bodary, Lompoc, 1967-2001 (615-284-13)
607 – Mickey McNamee, San Marino, 1964-2007
604 – Bob Louriero, Escalon, 1963-2004 (604-357)
602 – Chuck Camuso, Cupertino, Sunnyvale & Cupertino Homestead, 1986-2010 at Homestead (602-493-10)
596 – Ken Papi, Fresno, 1975-2012 (594-415) (current)
591 – John Romano, Nogales, 1979-present (591-316-9)
584 – James Patrick, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial 1983-84 & Clovis, 1988-2012 (584-201-2) (current)
581 – Bill Hutton, San Jose Archbishop Mitty, 1983-2012 (581-308-5) (current)
579 – Jerry Lovarov, San Pedro, 1961-2003 (579-322-2)
569 – Rich Remkus, Covina Gladstone, 1989-2012 (current)
561 – Tom Muesborn, Chatsworth, 1991-2012 (561-107-4) (current)
550 – Art McRae, Ceres, 1960-1996 (550-427)
548 – Dick Serrano, San Diego University, 1976-1999
545 – Joe Winstead, Los Gatos, 1960-1999 (545-388)
533 – Caz Munoz, San Leandro 1964-1989 & Tuolomne Summerville, 1990-1997 (533-342)
512 – Ray Frederick, Delano, 1933-1966 (512-248-2)
502 – Allen Cropsey, Selma, 1958-1990 (502-283)
502 – Jack Thomson, Manteca 1981-1995 & Manteca Sierra, 1996-2012 (current)
501 – Norm Tanner, Vallejo, 1963-1996

The reason you shouldn’t bring up dream possibilities to a coach like Romano is for all his success, which includes several league titles and qualifying for the CIF-SS playoffs almost every season, is his teams haven’t done very well in the postseason.

Nogales, a team usually comprised of neighborhood youths, has not advanced past the CIF-SS quarterfinals during his long tenure.

So, to suddenly ask Romano about championships, well, he has his thoughts on that.

“During a 19-year stretch in the Sierra League we made the playoffs 17 times,” Romano said. “I’ve been to the quarters four times and I’ve had some great teams, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I don’t know how else you describe it. It wasn’t meant to be. I guess I’m just the Gene Mauch of the San Gabriel Valley.”

Mauch had more than 1,900 victories as a major league manager, but never won a league pennant, let alone the World Series.

Romano’s watched Bishop Amat coach Andy Nieto, South Hills’ Kevin Smith, Northview’s Darren Murphy, Charter Oak’s Tom Quinley, Glendora’s Dan Henley and San Dimas’ Mike Regan all win titles the past 10 years.

The success of his peers would make some longtime coaches like him bitter, but that’s not how Romano digests it all.

“I’m sort of jealous and envious, I’m not afraid to say that,” Romano said. “But don’t get it wrong, I’m happy to watch my friends win CIF titles. I’m not (sour) about it.

“Anyone who wins a CIF title is special. I admire those guys for doing it because I’ve never done it.

“It doesn’t wear on me like it used to, but you have to be honest with yourself, that’s what you play for. To get your name in the record books for winning a title, that’s special. Don’t sell it short.”

What area coaches admire about Romano, the winningest coach in East San Gabriel Valley history, is he’s still Romano with or without a CIF-SS title.

He doesn’t know what social media is. He still writes everything on a yellow legal pad, doesn’t email or text and can’t figure out how to use his printer.

But the man can flat-out coach baseball.

“He’s a tremendous motivator and incredible teacher of the game,” South Hills’ Smith said. “Whether his teams are having a good year or a bad year, they’re always fundamentally sound and his kids are prepared and compete.

“That’s what I’ve always admired about Nogales players. They take on the mentality and personality of their head coach. They’re fiery, they get in your face and they battle. Those are all traits of John Romano, and when you can get your kids to go to battle for you like that I don’t care what your record is, you’ve done your job and he does it year in and year out.”

Romano is a physical education teacher at Nogales, but his passion for baseball hasn’t let up one bit.

“I love my job, I love teaching, but I don’t get up in the morning because of P.E.,” Romano said. “I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but I get up in the morning to coach baseball and be with my players.”

That honesty is what Nieto loves about Romano.

“Let’s get this right. He’s the dean of the San Gabriel Valley when it comes to baseball,” Nieto said. “He does everything the right way.

“When I was coaching at USC and would talk to John about his players or talent in the area, you could count on him to be truthful. He never sugar-coated anything.

“That’s a man I wouldn’t have any problems playing for. He tells it like it is and gets the best out of what he has.

“And look, if you’re making a list of the best anything when it comes to baseball in the San Gabriel Valley, you better have John at the top of those discussions.”

Romano never thought he would approach 600 wins this season, not with a team that starts only two seniors. But his young group already has 18 wins with room to grow.

The Nobles, who started 0-3 and 1-4, went on a 17-game winning streak to break the school record of 15 in a row set in 1984 before finally losing to Baldwin Park on Friday for their first league loss.

“Someone asked me if Nogales is the real deal,” Northview’s Murphy said. “If you win 17 straight, you’re the real deal.”

The Nobles swept Covina earlier in league action, but the next two weeks decide it all.

Nogales (18-5, 7-1) will host Northview (14-5-1, 7-1) on Wednesday and play again Friday at Northview before finishing with a home-and-away series against San Dimas (14-7, 7-2) next week.

Nogales’ 6-foot-2 junior pitcher Erik Gonzalez has verbally committed to San Diego State and is 7-2.

Junior shortstop Adrian Guzman is batting .379, junior Cole Martinez is hitting .402 and there are freshman standouts in utility infielder Anthony Guardado, hitting .403 with 19 RBIs, and freshman catcher Albert Lopez, hitting .390.

It’s a team whose best years probably are ahead of it, but the Nobles want it now.

“I thought that we would win 18 or 19 games (this season), but I didn’t know we would run off 17 in a row and be in this position,” Romano said. “If someone told me we would be tied for first with two weeks left, I’d take our chances.”

For obvious reasons, there are some who are not rooting for Romano to get his 600th win this season.

“Well, that would mean he beats us this week and I don’t want that,” Murphy joked. “But seriously, who wouldn’t pull for a guy like (Romano) to win a title or go deep in the playoffs because he’s meant so much to the Valley and to coaches like me coming up because he does it with who he has and never complains about not having the physically-gifted players, or a guy who throws in the 90s.

“For me personally, to be coaching as long as he has at the same place, to be near 600 wins, that’s special. Some of us have CIF championships, but what he’s doing and continues to do is beyond comparison.”

Romano hasn’t done it alone. Assistant Don Montanez has been with him 29 years, and after all this time it’s the players, past and present, that make it worthwhile.

“I like being involved in everyone’s life that played for me, that’s where I get my enthusiasm,” Romano said. “I love talking to former players and knowing how they’re doing and when they come back to see how we’re doing. That stuff drives me.”

In all likelihood, Romano’s 600th win probably will come in some meaningless spring tournament next March. But that’s how it’s always been for Romano – under the radar, and he’s fine with that.

“I’m a guy who loves practice more than the games,” Romano says. “When it (600) comes and if it comes, it’s about the school, it’s about my assistant Don Montanez, the past and present players. It’s for all of them.

“It’s been one great memory here. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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  • Class Act

    I think he said something that’s really important here. He loves to be invovled with the kids pass and present. It’s not just about baseball, its about the job this man has done in mentoring young men. Giving yourself to a school and community for 35 years is HUGE in my book…

    His accomplishments of winning baseball games are just icing on the cake and are personal awards for his hard work.

    Great job Coach!

  • Conq76

    That’s a man I could play for, great job coach.

  • what about

    Where’s Kevin Smith on this list

  • Baseball Fan

    Great Acoomplishment. Especially with all these coaches leaving programs so quickly.

    I also wonder how many wins Coach Remkus had when he was at Charter Oak.

  • socalbaseball fan

    I used to enjoy watching Nogales play when they were in the sierra league. Coach Romano teams were always well coached and the games vs Diamond Bar were always tough. Another long time coach Jeff Stout of Yucaipa has now 700 plus wins in his long career. Coach Romano and Stout both class acts and great coaches who could have coached in college.

  • Albert J. Nuo

    It is great to see and hear Coach Romano continued success all around. I had the privilege to Play for him during 84-86, and that was one of the greatest times of my life. Coach Romano impacted me in my day to day life challenges. I took what he taught us on the field to real life, so yes his expertise is more than just Baseball.

    I enjoyed his coaching ways so much, my boys played for him as well. They feel the same way I do about Coach!

    We will be his players no matter past or present!

    #20 Nuno

  • rb fan

    coach blalock of rancho bernardo recently earned his 800th. might have been yesterday,not sure

  • Old Timer

    A old time coach like Romano and Remkus are a tribute to the game of baseball. I encourage anyone here to go watch these men coach young men and to really watch what is going on during the game. Nice to see these coaches get the recognition after all these years of not having the super stud every year ala other schools in this Valley.