UC Merced cross country head coach killed in motorcycle crash

Ryan Nunez, 27. Nunez was in a fatal motorcycle crash Monday afternoon, Merced police said. Nunez veered off the road and crashed into a tree on East Bellevue Road near El Capitan High School, police said.
Ryan Nunez, 27. Nunez was in a fatal motorcycle crash Monday afternoon, Merced police said. Nunez veered off the road and crashed into a tree on East Bellevue Road near El Capitan High School, police said. UC Merced Recreation and Athletics Department

The head coach for UC Merced’s men’s and women’s cross country teams was involved in a fatal motorcycle crash on Monday afternoon in Merced.

According to police officers, 27-year-old Ryan Nunez was headed west in the first block of East Bellevue Road when the motorcycle veered off the road near El Capitan High School and hit a tree. Nunez was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Merced Police Department Lt. Donald King said investigators still were trying to determine what happened. As of Tuesday, he said, all they knew was that for an “unknown reason he went off on the side of the road and struck a tree.”

Nunez was in his third year as head coach at the campus, athletics director David Dunham said in a statement.

“His passion for running, and infectious smile, will be missed by his family, friends, team and colleagues,” Dunham said.

Vicente Velarde, who became Nunez’s assistant coach last year, said the two men were teammates at Fresno City College and became close friends.

“He was such a genuine person and he was always fun to be around,” Velarde said in an email to the Sun-Star. “I would definitely consider him a brother.”

Velarde said they would talk for hours just about running, and that the passion he had for running and coaching was “immeasurable.”

Nunez was the “best coach that you could have for such a young program,” Velarde said.

Nunez was able to make a connection with every runner, Velarde said, because that was one of his goals.

“Every day that we had practice, he expressed his passion for running,” Velarde said. “He set high expectations for the team and he made them come together and believe in one another.”

One of Nunez’s most recent accomplishments came at the last meet he coached, Dunham said. It was during the Cal Pac Championships on Nov. 19, where the men’s and women’s teams placed second and third, respectively, while two runners qualified for the national championships.

The head coach also sent six runners to the NAIA National Championship meet, Dunham said, and led teams to the California Pacific Conference Championships. In 2014, Nunez coached UC Merced’s first individual conference championships.

Nunez was driven to build a great program, Dunham told the Sun-Star in a phone interview, and he was an all-around good guy.

“For us here, we’re really going to miss Ryan,” Dunham said.

As of now, Dunham said, they are “working with student athletes to manage their grief.”

“It’s been very difficult,” Dunham said. “They’re a very close group of students. All athletes are helping … and being supportive.”

Dunham said they most likely will start thinking about what’s in store for the next cross country season after the holidays, and are first making sure all students are being helped and supported.

After graduating in Fresno from Sunnsyside High School, Nunez continued his academic and running career at Fresno City College and was later recruited to the Bay Area’s Notre Dame de Namur University, Dunham said.

He received a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology-exercise sports science at Notre Dame, Dunham said, and competed on the school’s cross country and track and field teams. Nunez then attended Concordia University Irvine and received his master’s in coaching and athletic administration.

In addition to coaching and running, Velarde said, Nunez enjoyed listening to rock music and playing the guitar.

Nunez is survived by his wife, Cecilia Vazquez, who is a UC Merced staff member in the Office of International Affairs, according to Dunham. A GoFundMe account,, has been made to help with expenses for Nunez’s memorial.

“I could say it feels like you not only lost a coach but also a friend, a teammate, a brother,” Velarde said. “Ryan had so much Bobcat pride and that will continue on with his athletes and myself.”

Monica Velez: 209-385-2486