Tony Sanchez: the man behind the wheel of Bishop Gorman’s fine-tuned vehicle

Posted: November 27, 2014 in General, Preps
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Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez stands among his players after every game and sings the school song to the fans.

 

By W.G. Ramirez

“Now that we’ve won, we have the pleasure and the honor to practice this beautiful game of football on Thanksgiving morning,” Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez told his Gaels after dispatching Arbor View in last week’s Sunset Regional championship game.

So while you were preparing for your day filled with football, family and food – who doesn’t do that on Thanksgiving – Sanchez was where he feels most comfortable: Fertitta Field with his Gaels, getting ready for Saturday’s state semifinal against Sunrise Region champ Liberty.

“I got what I think is one of the greatest jobs in the world. I do what I love, I coach high school football, I’ve got an unbelievable staff, I work at the greatest school in the world with the greatest faculty and staff and administration and look where my office is, look where my classroom is – I’ve got the nicest classroom in the city,” Sanchez said, during a 1-on-1 interview last week, prior to his Gaels’ win over Arbor View.

It’s been a long ascension for Sanchez, resurrecting Bishop Gorman’s football program, which to some degree receives its fair share of criticism. A portion of the hate spewed toward the Gaels’ national powerhouse is from rivals, usually after they’ve been stomped into submission. But more of it is simply regurgitated comments from people who don’t know any better, and simply repeat what they hear.

But what many people don’t know is the man who was brought to Las Vegas from California, and who has led the Gaels to five straight state championships behind discipline, work ethic, values and good ol’ fashioned blue-collar football labor.

THE START

Sanchez took over in March of 2009, after building California High School into a dominant state program over a previous five-year span. Heeding the advice of a friend about a vacancy at Gorman, he took a shot and threw his name in the ring.

“I didn’t know how serious I was going to take it, but I saw the possibility,” Sanchez said. “You just saw a lot of real great possibilities. You saw the buy-in from the community, you saw the buy-in from the alumni. Gorman has a tradition like no other. The people that graduated from Gorman love the school and they give back to the school. They’re a part of the school.”

At the time, there was no Cadillac-like stadium. The Gaels were practicing on a small patch of grass behind where Fertitta Stadium now sits. There was no first-class weight room, as there might have been 10 racks to train on. There might have been just more than 100 kids in the entire program. It was a different culture, according to Sanchez, and most importantly – the first thing he pointed out – the Gaels were picked to lose to Palo Verde. After all, the Panthers won the year prior in blowout fashion.

Now, Fertitta Stadium has all the bells and whistles a high school football stadium could ask for, the 41,324-square-foot Fertitta Athletic Training Center includes a four-lane, 60-yard track, a 90-seat classroom and an athletic training room with a hydrotherapy pool and ice bath. There are now more than 170 kids in the program, and oh yeah, the Gaels are ranked No. 1 in the country.

“Gorman had a lot of talented kids so I knew there was gonna be a lot of heavy lifting involved in regards to creating a disciplined culture, getting kids to do the things the right way, buying into a year-round program, sacrificing a lot more time in the summer – just creating a sense of discipline,” Sanchez said.

And by doing his job of instilling the right mindset with his program, the parents and boosters followed suit. Let’s be frank, Bishop Gorman does have some wealthy alumni, and the campus didn’t move from Maryland Parkway because the private entity wasn’t receiving donations and because tuitions weren’t increasing. But they also weren’t just going to throw money around without the right guy in place, to build a nationally ranked program.

“How many people on a Friday night that don’t have any kids at a high school are coming back 40 years after they graduate – that’s pretty special,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t happen many places in the country. But it happens at Gorman.”

THE RISE

It didn’t take long once Sanchez took over, as the Gaels went a perfect 15-0 on their way to the state title, with a 62-21 victory over Del Sol. The Gaels tallied 798 points in 2009 and led the nation in points scored. Some might say the competition Gorman faced wasn’t near as good as the teams in California, Texas or Florida, but they may be the same people who say their glass is half empty. Those with a glass half full, saw Gorman finish No. 25 in the nation, according to Prep Nation, and Sanchez being named a Max Preps National Coach of the Year finalist.

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Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez has led the Gaels to five straight state championships.

Nothing has changed the past four seasons, either, as the Gaels have reeled off state titles each year, slowly climbing in the national polls and creeping their way into living rooms on national TV, including numerous appearances on ESPN. In 2010 the Gaels outscored opponents by a combined score of 692-101. In 2011 the Gaels took on three nationally ranked teams – beating then-No. 10 Chaparral (Ariz.) 42-22, knocking off then-No. 13 Servite (Calif.) 31-28, and suffering its only loss to the nation’s then second-ranked Armwood (Fla.) 20-17. They finished the season ranked fifth nationally by USA Today.

While averaging 55.5 points per game in 2012, they finished the season ranked ninth in the nation by USAT. Last year, in traveling as far as New Jersey and hosting the No. 1 team in the nation, the Gaels seemingly benched their mark thanks to arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. They finished 17th in the nation, but the foundation was laid for this year’s run to No. 1.

“Looking back six years, it’s just unbelievable to think about the places we’ve traveled, the teams that we’ve played, the games we’ve been in, building this program to a point where it’s nationally recognized. The deal we have with Nike and the relationship we have there, the way the alumni have really stepped up and supported us in so many different ways,” he said. “And as it’s gotten harder, the refreshing thing is that you have faith in kids because things are hard here. Every day we work, it’s a grind, they’re accountable, we’re in their face and the numbers keep growing and growing. It just shows the kids want to be a part of something like that.”

Sanchez said he’s exceeded his expectations from original goals, and isn’t done with what he’s started.

THE GRIND

With success comes adversity. Sanchez, his coaches and the Gaels don’t necessarily face much of that in terms of local competition. I mean, they haven’t lost to a local school since Sanchez got here. For his coaches, their adversity is living up to his expectations and fulfilling the model he brought to Las Vegas by executing it with each coach’s unit. For the players, it’s taking that model, perfecting it and then putting it on the field.

For Sanchez, well, he’s at the top. So his adversity is to make sure the vehicle continues to run smooth.

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Gaels coach Tony Sanchez talks about his love for reading books written by some of the greatest football coaches ever.

Gauging from the bookcase in his office, he’s been mentored by some of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. Books by Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Bear Bryant – to name a few – or quotes and anecdotes he shared with me, the ones that resonated and stuck with him. Sanchez is deeper than some might think, or see when he’s firing up and down the sidelines, screaming at someone. It doesn’t matter the score, Sanchez is a fiery guy. He summarized that to me in a post-game interview after beating Centennial two weeks ago, saying he is a perfectionist.

And if something goes wrong on the field, and you see him going off on a player or assistant coach, he’s probably not half as mad at them as he is himself. He’s the type of guy who takes things personal. And if a cog in the engine of his vehicle breaks down, he’s taking the blame. He may be yelling at the car he’s driving, but he knows it’s up to him to give it a tune up.

“Not everyone has first-hand knowledge of how we do things around here. The kids get out of school … they’re in film session from 2:30 ‘til 3, from 3 ‘til 5 something they’re on the football field, then they go right into the weight room and that’s a process that continues to go,” he said. “I don’t think anything is misconstrued (about us), but I wonder if everyone has the first-hand knowledge of the amount of time that our kids put in, and the time the coaches put in. It’s hard to be successful for this long amount of time, and our kids have done a good job of just buying into the work ethic it takes to be the best.”

Sanchez said the Gaels’ 17 consecutive days off during the summer is the longest break they get. They start hitting weights their first day back in January, after Winter break, and continue for eight months leading into the season. He’s quick to point out that many of the programs in the valley do the same thing, and he’s not taking anything away from the Libertys, Palo Verdes, Arbor Views, so on and so forth.

But make no bones about it, Bishop Gorman does not boast a program chock full of talent that show up, put their pads on and dominate by accident. There’s work involved in sculpting the nation’s No. 1 program.

“When you watch film, you should see and feel energy, you should see execution, you should see crispness,” Sanchez said. “And I think if you watch us on film, we don’t look sloppy. We don’t jump offside, we don’t do a lot of silly things. Do we make mistakes? Yeah. And that’s what we do, we correct those things and we move on.”

Notice the word “WE.” Again, Sanchez takes everything personal, and is a guy who knows it starts at the top. It’s his responsibility to make sure the Gaels are firing on all pistons and remained a well-oiled machine.

Which is probably why they were practicing this morning, while many of you were trying to figure out the difference between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie.

THE FAMILY MAN

Away from the field, away from the game of football, Sanchez is a loving husband and doting father who is like any of us away from their job. He tries not to bring his job home, and is appreciative and thankful for his wife, who shelved her career with a major pharmaceutical company so he could fulfill his dream of building Gorman into a national power. His kids are his life. You can see it when he speaks of them.

You can see a twinkle in his eyes when he speaks about Bishop Gorman football, but you can see the apples in his eyes when he speaks about his children.

“I love spending time with my kids,” he said. “I’ve got a wonderful daughter, Alyssa, and watching her grow into this incredible young woman… I just love when I’m walking through the door and she’s just sitting in her room reading a novel, it’s like ‘wow, thank God my kids are smarter than me.’

“My son Jason, just being around him and watching him grow and develop different interests and different hobbies and loves, things like that, it’s just so fun being around him. Just praying with my kids before they go to bed at night, that means a lot. And my wife is wonderful. She’s sacrificed a lot. She gave up a career … she stays home with the kids now and it’s been a great thing.”

Sanchez said he isn’t worried about the criticism and rumors that swirl around the Gaels’ athletic program, and can’t be concerned what he, his family, his coaches or his family hears, because he’s too busy thinking positive every time he wakes up.

“I don’t think about it at all,” he said. “There are so many people that think we’re doing a great job. There are so many people who show up in the stands and who are cheering our kids on. We’ve got parents out there feeding our kids (after practice). I’ve got kids busting their tail to try to create opportunity later in life, just to keep this program going, to compete at a high level. I’ve got no time and energy for anything that’s not positive. We’re about moving forward, we’re about focusing on the things we can control. And what can we control: our attitude and our effort every single day.

“A lot of things in life you don’t control, but when you wake up in the morning, what’s your attitude for the day? Is it good or bad? What kind of effort are you gonna give? Those are the things I control. There’s a lot of things out there, we can bring that up, but I don’t know, I don’t worry about it. I don’t read that stuff.”

THE JOB, THE SPORT

In the end, Sanchez said he’s taken each coaching position with the same mentality based off a quote he was given by friend and coach Tony Samuel, and lived by that mantra ever since.

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After singing to the fans, and a post-game speech from Sanchez, the Gaels end each game is ended with a prayer.

“‘Take every job like it’s your last and you won’t screw it up’ was the greatest advice I ever received,” Sanchez said. “I’ve always felt if you treat people right, if you do the right thing and if you work hard, you don’t make excuses and you stand for something, there’s always going to be possibility and opportunity out there for ya.”

And from what I can tell, he’s not blowing smoke. I gave Sanchez a chance to fire back at his critics. Offered up a forum to discuss the public’s accusations. But not a negative word to say. He credits his coaches and his players, saying they’re the reason the Gaels are successful. He loves his job, he loves his staff and he loves the game of football. He loves Bishop Gorman High School.

“I am not here because I am some great guru, I’m here because I’m smart enough to hire smart people, to surround myself with positive people, to listen and to learn and continue growing. Those things are a must if you’re going to sustain success,” Sanchez said. “If every young man had an opportunity to play football, to be on a team and to be accountable, to create a work ethic in a year-round process, to understand what it’s like to be great in certain moments … the amount of care and love you develop for your teammates, the physicality of it all … the grind and the sweat and the hurt of football, that will serve you well the rest of your days in every single thing you do. I wish everybody in the country, at 3 o’clock after school, walked on to a football field and went to practice for two hours a day, what a great country we would have. And we still do – it would just be even tougher.”

Perhaps, maybe, as tough as the No. 1 ranked Bishop Gorman Gaels, and the man driving the vehicle – coach Tony Sanchez.

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