Coach Pete Gonzalez leaned back in his chair and smiled.
The question concerned how he felt about his teams very difficult football schedule this season.
He paused, then leaned forward and spoke softly.
We know its going to be a challenge,? he said. But thats what we do at St. Paul. We teach boys to accept challenges.?
Gonzalez knows about challenges. Hes in the middle of one one right now, and while he doesnt look at it this way, hes not playing on an even field.
At age 41, after 15 years as an assistant coach, Gonzalez is a head coach for the first time. And not the head coach at just any old school.
Gonzalez replaced Marijon Ancich, a southland coaching legend who, with 344 victories, is Californias winningest high school football coach.
Gonzalez spent the last seven years as an assistant under Ancich, so he knew what accepting the job entailed.
It means dealing with the illustrious tradition that Ancich helped develop in more than 30 years at the helm. It could be compared to Gene Bartow replacing John Wooden, and Tommy Lasorda taking the reins from Walter Alston.
Gonzalez also knew he wasnt the first choice in the minds of many of the Swordsmen faithful.
He heard how they wanted a former St. Paul player, and although in the seventh and eighth grades Gonzalez wanted to attend St. Paul, he ended up at Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary.
He knew there would be resentment with his selection, doubt concerning his ability and second guessing his decisions.
In his mind, however, it all merely comes with the territory. Most important, he knew the territory was worth it.
One thing stuck in his mind.
I felt that working the past six years with a coach like Marijon qualified me for the position,? he said. Not only did I learn from him about football, but he taught me the ins and outs of the program.?
Gonzalez, who also is the dean of boys, does not initiate talk about what has been said concerning his hiring. He prefers to concentrate on current situations, todays practice, on how the program is progressing and looking ahead to the impending challenges.
He calls continuing the traditions? a priority, but adds that its not just about football.
Its about the total growth of the athlete,? Gonzalez said, academically, developing self discipline, preparing them to go on to the next level.?
Gonzalez said his philosophy is the same as Ancichs.
It isnt how big or fast you are but how hard you play,? Gonzalez says. I tell the kids, if you want to play, take someones spot.
For the Swordsmen, it will be a tough road ahead.
Gonzalez speaks highly of the support he has received from the community and the commiment exhibited by the coaches and players, but there are naysayers who will expect, maybe even want them to fail, waiting to say told you so.?
And winning a game here and there, even against the powerhouses that lay in wait, probably wont be enough to change their minds, at least not soon.
Wouldnt it seem more prudent to give Gonzalez and his program a chance by watching it in action and judging it by performance and not whether it wins but by how hard the players play?
Gonzalez would be quick to emphasize this is not going to be a pity party for him, nor will there by an Oh woe is me? cry from him.
On the contrary. With all the necessary hard work, he has had neither time nor inclination for such reactions. The past is the past, and whats done is done. He is moving forward with confidence in the prospects for success.
While waiting for the games to begin, consider that Ancich recommended Gonzalez for the job. If Ancich felt that way, why cant his faithful respect his opinion?
Were not talking about seeking a favor here, were talking about fairness.
But maybe thats too much to expect.