Decade after decade, identifying Tucson’s Coach of the Decade could be defined as crowded at the top.
The ’70s? Do you put more stock in Fred Snowden’s construction of a national-scale basketball program at McKale Center, baseball’s Jerry Kindall’s ability to win Arizona’s first NCAA championship or the high school coaching excellence by Amphitheater’s Vern Friedli or Tucson’s Ollie Mayfield, both football state champs at the highest level?
The ’80s? Lute Olson climbed from the bottom to the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Or was it Kindall, who coached Arizona to 1980 and 1986 College World Series championships?
Or perhaps Sahuaro High basketball coach state title coach Dick McConnell, fast moving to become the state’s most successful ever in that sport.
The ’90s? How do you pick between Olson and UA softball coach Mike Candrea (four NCAA titles) or Sabino football coach Jeff Scurran, whose teams won three state championships and were so close to three more?
From 2000-09, Arizona swimming coach Frank Busch produced Candrea-type success, winning multiple NCAA championships, while the UA’s Rick LaRose became a college golf Hall of Fame coach and Sunnyside High School wrestling coach Bobby DeBerry won every state championship, 10 for 10, in the decade.
On the final day of the decade, the ballot for Tucson’s Coach of the Decade has become more diverse than ever. It includes volleyball, softball, soccer, golf, football and basketball coaches.
As always, it’s crowded at the top. Here are my choices, one through 10:
1. Laura Ianello, Arizona women’s golf: In April of 2010, Ianello was in her third season as the UA’s assistant women’s golf coach. That’s when Greg Byrne took office as Arizona’s athletic director and found that head women’s golf coach Shelly Haywood had essentially stepped away from her duties. Ianello, who had just turned 30, took over.
Two months later, Pac-10 coaches selected Ianello as the league’s Coach of the Year. The Wildcats won the brutally difficult Pac-10 championship and finished No. 5 in the NCAA. It was a preview of the decade to come.
Arizona won the 2018 NCAA championship; a year later it finished No. 3.
Ianello’s teams finished No. 5 in 2015, No. 7 in 2014, No. 8 in 2013 and No. 9 in 2016. Arizona enters 2020 ranked No. 4 nationally. No other Tucson coach can match that success, especially on a national scale.
What’s more, Ianello, who played golf at Arizona from 2000-03, accomplished all of that during a decade in which she gave birth to two daughters and somehow managed to keep Arizona a steady national championship contender, opening a pathway to the top women’s golf recruits internationally, from Taiwan to France and from Norway to England.
2. Wolfgang Weber, Salpointe Catholic High School boys soccer: The “Father of Soccer” in Tucson, dating more than 40 years, coached the Lancers to state championships in 2012, 2013 and 2019, rolling up a record of 191-46-10, producing such season records as 25-2-1, 26-2, 20-4-1 and 23-4.
3. Eric Tatham, Cienega High School softball: With three state championships — 2015, 2017, 2018 — Tatham’s record over the last 10 seasons was 233-81, coming oh-so-close to two more state championships, finishing 28-4 in 2010 and 26-5 in 2013.
4. Dennis Bene, Salpointe football: Not only did Bene coach the Lancers to their first-ever state title in 2013, a dominant 14-0 season, he finished the decade with a 103-21 record, by far the leading high school football program in Tucson, one that routinely drew 4,000 to 5,000 fans per game, reached the state championship game four times and produced a roll-call of top players who signed with such schools as Washington, Ohio State, Texas and UCLA.
5. David Cosgrove, Pima College men’s soccer: The decade began with rival Yavapai College clearly the No. 1 men’s soccer program in the NJCAA. But over 10 seasons, Cosgrove chipped away at Yavapai’s status and put the Aztecs on even ground. PCC finished No. 3 in the NJCAA finals in 2015 and 2017, finished No. 5 this season and won the national championship in 2018. Cosgrove’s teams went 191-48-16.
6. Heather Moore-Martin, Catalina/Salpointe volleyball: She began the decade coaching Catalina’s boys volleyball team to back-to-back state championships, going a combined 54-2, and following with a 24-2 season and a state runner-up finish. Then she moved to Salpointe, coaching the girls volleyball team, where she has gone 156-32 over five seasons, winning state championships in 2016 and 2017.
7. Todd Holthaus, Pima College women’s basketball: In a conference, the ACCAC, that routinely places two or three teams among the NJCAA’s top 10, Holthaus moved the Aztecs to that level. PCC finished No. 2 in the NJCAA championships in 2011, No. 3 in 2016, No. 5 in 2019 and in 2010. His club’s record over the decade was 229-101, and is ranked No. 9 nationally entering 2020.
8. Sean Miller, Arizona men’s basketball: The Wildcats have been unable to win the “big one,” but reached the Elite Eight in 2011, 2014 and 2015 and won five Pac-12 championships with a 10-year record of 264-89 entering this season.
9. Steve Botkin, Sahuaro High School girls basketball: Under Botkin, the Cougars went 218-67 in the decade, the most victories by any high school basketball coach, boys or girls, in Tucson. Sahuaro reached the state semifinals in 2015, 2018 and 2019 and have opened this season 8-0. No girls basketball team in Tucson, any level, won a state basketball championship in the decade.
10. Tony Amato, Arizona women’s soccer: When Amato was hired from Stephen F. Austin in 2012, the Wildcats weren’t a factor in the mighty Pac-12 women’s soccer standings. But in seven seasons, Amato led the Wildcats to five NCAA Tournament berths, a tough out, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2015 and completing the decade with a 79-47-17 record. Before Amato was hired, Arizona had played in just two NCAA Tournaments in 20 years.
Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @ghansen711