One year away was enough for Lou Souza.
The longtime coach will be back in the Merced High dugout next year.
And not as an assistant.
Souza is returning as Merced's head coach -- the same position he held for 13 seasons before handing the reins of the program to Scott Winton in 2003.
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Souza takes over for Todd Buchner, who accepted a teaching position at Le Grand High.
Since Merced was clear that its baseball coach needed to have an on-campus presence, Buchner thus was vacating his job in the dugout.
Which opened the door for an old hand.
"Nobody knew I was thinking about coaching again," Souza said. "I didn't talk to anybody about it.
"I was driving down to Southern California to visit my daughter. The more I drove, the more I got to thinking about it.
"I didn't know when the opportunity would present itself again -- and it did."
Souza led Merced to four Central California Conference titles from 1990 to 2001.
Souza also served as co-head coach with Winton when Merced won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship in 2002.
Souza spent the following four years as the pitching coach, which allowed him to spend more time with his family.
He stepped away completely last season.
"I wanted to be a dad," said Souza, whose son, Louie, will be a junior at Merced next season.
"The last year I coached, I was the pitching coach, but I didn't dress out on game days.
"I didn't feel good about that. I felt I was cheating the kids. You can't work with the kids at practice and then not be there for them during the games.
"Being away last year, I really discovered I missed it.
"I wanted to make sure I wasn't just coaching because my son is playing. I'm going in with a five-year plan and then I'll go from there."
Souza talked with the coaches in the program, including Buchner, before accepting the job.
"You know what you have in Lou," Merced associate principal Jon Schaefer said.
"He's not only a tremendous coach, he's also a great role model for the players."
For Souza, the timing is right.
"I felt I got out for the right reasons and I feel like I'm getting back in for the right reasons," he said.
"Sitting around and watching games, I realized I really missed it."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.