24-Year Career Includes 20 State Tournament Appearances, Three 6A Titles… And Counting
By MIKE MOGUIN
GTR Sports Writer
Rudy Garcia has seen plenty of adventure in his 24-year head coaching career. The latest accolade came on Jan. 12 when he reached his 500th career victory, as his Union Redskins beat Lawton Eisenhower 73-52 in the Putnam City Invitational.
When the team returned to Tulsa, Garcia’s family was waiting to put on a celebration.
“They had big gold balloons with a five and two zeros and they did have cupcakes for the team,” Garcia said. “Since they couldn’t be at the game, they made sure they were here when the bus got back.
At the Redskins’ first home game after the tournament, the Union athletic department recognized its longtime coach with a plaque for winning his 500th game.
“It’s probably something to enjoy when the season is over. You realize that being part of 500 wins here is special. But during the season, you try hard not to think about it so much because we’re trying to get ready for the next game. But, it was special to get it done.”
When people congratulate him, he jokingly says, “It just means I’ve been around for a long time.”
The 500+ wins span 24 seasons, during which he has led Union to the state tournament often, with six title game appearances, winning three of them.
Garcia was hired by Union late in the summer of 1989 to be a P.E. teacher at one of its elementary schools. Late in the school year, he coached students in intramurals.
An administrator then saw him coaching man-to-man defense and the next step was made.
“She thought that was so neat,” Garcia said. “Next thing you know, I got hired as a junior high coach the next year. I started out coaching girls and Emily Barkley, our athletic director, was on that seventh grade team.”
Garcia would serve one year as an assistant for the girls’ varsity before becoming the boys’ head coach for the 1995-96 season. By his third season (1997-98) at the helm, the Redskins were in the Class 6A state championship game but lost to Midwest City.
Union would return four years later. Once again, it came up short. It would eventually win its first state championship under Garcia in 2004. After another runner-up finish two seasons later, the Redskins would go on to win the title in 2012 to wrap up an undefeated season, then again in 2014.
“State championships are hard to win and I think people might take it for granted or think that it is easy,” Garcia said. “It is always hard to get to the state tournament and we’ve been there 20 out of 23 years.
“You have to learn what it takes to win one. It’s a different game than what you played in the regular season. Once you win that first one (state title), it makes it easier. Sometimes you got to get that monkey off your back and we finally did and we were able to win three of them. But, each one is different. They’re all exciting,” Garcia added.
Most people may say that the unbeaten team of 2012 may have been his best team, Garcia said, “but the teams of 2004 and 2014 were also a great group of kids. And there were teams that didn’t win it (state) that could be compared to some of the best teams we have had. Unfortunately, we just ran up against somebody else that was a little bit better.”
Many former players of Garcia’s are now in the coaching ranks. Steve Geary, who played for the 1998 runner-up squad, is now an assistant to his high school mentor at Union. Another standout from ’98, Kevin Ritter, is now the head coach for Yukon. There is also Brandon Maddux at Coweta and Clint Stewart at Bartlesville. Alan Daniels, who played for the 2002 runner-up team went on to have a stellar college career at Lamar.
“I’ve just been fortunate enough to have an administration throughout the years that has supported us and given me the opportunity and I’m thankful for that. I’m really thankful for the kids that come through the program because without them, none of it would happen,” Garcia said.
“It’s not about me. It’s about what this program does and what direction we want to go and what our goals are and this is just one of those things that happen along the way,” he added.