It's been a rough couple weeks for Raul Alvarez since his dismissal as the Le Grand High football coach. Alvarez was fired just one game into the 2017 season as Le Grand administration cited a decline in the program the last two years and low player turnout.
Last Friday night, Alvarez didn't find himself crammed into a booth or on the sideline during the football season for the first time in 25 years. Alvarez spent the night by going out to dinner with his wife Stephanie and his father-in-law Daniel.
"It was strange," Alvarez said.
Alvarez opened up about his firing, how he never saw it coming, how he will always have a special place for Le Grand High in his heart and what he plans to do the rest of this season.
Le Grand made the coaching change official on Monday, Sept. 4, when they removed Alvarez as the head coach and named assistant Aaron Martinez the interim coach.
However, Alvarez found out he was no longer going to be the head coach on Friday, Sept. 1, when he met with administration.
Following the loss to Yosemite, he had discussions with administration about possible plans going forward after the injuries in the season opener. They talked about possibly moving some players up from the junior varsity team.
Alvarez thought the Sept. 1 meeting was going to be about where they were with the plan heading into the following week with a game at Livingston. Instead, he walked into his termination meeting.
"I think ultimately the head coach is responsible for the program," Alvarez said. "My situation was unique. I tried to do the best I could with the knowledge I had. I tried to do what was best for the program. It was a tough pill to swallow. I'm still confused about the decision."
The timing of the decision confused Alvarez the most.
Why did the high school wait one game into the season to make the move? If they were unhappy with Alvarez, why didn't they do something in the spring or summer?
"There's never a right time for stuff like this to happen," Alvarez said. "From my perspective, one game into the season was a bit of a surprise."
The move stung Alvarez because the Le Grand head coaching job was his dream job.
He graduated from Le Grand High in 1991. He has 10 siblings who all went to Le Grand. He's been coaching football for 24 years with 16 of those seasons spent at Le Grand. He was the offensive coordinator under Rick Martinez during the Bulldogs' four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championships and during the 2011 run to the state championship game.
"I love that school," Alvarez said. "I was there a long time. I did my best to make sure the school was well represented at all times. I tried to always put the kids first. The community was so supportive.
"A lot of things have gone through my mind in the past couple weeks. I can remember all the way back to when Dennis Stubbs started in 1993 or 1994. Thinking about all that time. There were a lot of good times. I got to see the maturation of the program. I saw it as a head coach and as an assistant."
The Bulldogs went 7-4 in Alvarez's first season as the head coach in 2014. The last two years Le Grand went 3-17 combined.
"The past couple years, even though we went 2-8 and 1-9, I really enjoyed the kids," Alvarez said. "I enjoyed being part of their journey. I try to be a positive influence in their lives."
During his tenure as Le Grand coach, Alvarez worked as a walk-on coach. Alvarez works at Merced College as a facilities scheduling technician.
Overseeing a football program can be a challenge for a coach who doesn't work on campus. Alvarez says that's why he felt Martinez, who is the younger brother of former Bulldogs coach Rick Martinez, returning to Le Grand High as a resource teacher this year was good for the football program.
"I believe in an on-campus coach," Alvarez said. "I think it's a very important part of the whole puzzle. When Aaron was brought back this year, I thought it was a good thing for the program to have a coach on campus. I've known Aaron for a long time. We felt it was going to be an asset for the program. We had a great conversation about what it could mean to the program. Aaron had coached with us for a long time. He was from the same coaching tree."
Alvarez said many coaches reached out to him after word spread. Some of them even asked if he'd be interested in joining their coaching staffs.
Alvarez has decided to help out Stubbs at Golden Valley, where he'll rejoin Rick Martinez as well. Alvarez had two other coaching stints for Stubbs at Golden Valley, coaching from 1996-1999 and 2002-2005 for the Cougars.
Stubbs gave Alvarez his first opportunity to coach in Le Grand a couple years after Alvarez graduated.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't help him out," Alvarez said. "He's done so much for me in my life. The little help I can give him I'll offer to help him any way I can. We've talked the past couple weeks. He understands coaches are grinders. We need to be in the mix. It'll probably be good for me."
Alvarez says he'll still be cheering for his former players.
"I wish the players good luck," Alvarez said. "I think something adults forget is it's the kids who are out there battling. They have to deal with the decisions adults make. I know it's been tough on the kids the last couple weeks. I'll be rooting for them every week. I may be wearing different colors but I still bleed green and gold."
Shawn Jansen 209-385-2462/@msssports.