Championship coaches leave winning programs

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

PREP ROUNDUP: Championship coaches leave winning programs

by Craig Wentz

With an estimated 25,000 new high school coaches each year in the state of California, many coaching changes go unnoticed. Within the last month, however, three very successful local coaches have moved on, leaving behind a combined eight CCS titles. Palo Alto High boys' water polo coach Craig Ackley, Gunn High gymnastics mentor Dianne Gibbs and Sacred Heart Prep boys' basketball coach Marty Ruiz all have left their positions for one reason or another. Despite their absence, each program appears to be left in good hands.

Ackley is replaced by Paly swim coach Ro Davis, Gunn assistant gymnastics coach Jesse Hragan takes over for Gibbs, and Sacred Heart Prep athletic director Mike Ciardella relieves Ruiz.

Ackley, who guided the Vikings to two CCS titles (1993 and 1997) and a runnerup CCS finish in five seasons, is moving to Denver, Colo., to be near his wife's family. The cupboard, however, will not be bare for Davis.

Davis will inherit a strong, fast and experienced unit with plenty of talent. Paly lost only three starters off last year's CCS championship team and will have a talented group of upcoming junior varsity players that tallied a 24-1 record last season.

"Paly will be one of the top two teams in CCS and Ro will do a great job and has the background," said Ackley. "It's been an incredible teaching and coaching experience at Paly and it will be hard to leave."

Ackley will have a busy summer before he packs his bags for Colorado. Aside from coaching at the Stanford summer water polo program and participating in local tournaments, Ackley will also take his 18-under team to Europe (Budapest, Prague, Berlin) for international competition beginning June 24, before heading back to the U.S. in August for the Junior Olympics in Orlando, Fla.

At Gunn, Gibbs built a gymnastics dynasty. The Titans captured five consecutive CCS crowns from 1993-1997 until the streak was broken in May by champion Leland. Gibbs found one of the problems with being a part-time coach is squeezing so many hours in a day.

"It was a hard decision to leave, but I have a family and a job and it had been difficult fitting in the time to coach," said Gibbs, who has children ages 10 and 3-years old. "But I feel very good about how the program has progressed."

Gibbs will not entirely abandon the Titan gymnastics program. She still will help out, but not in the capacity as a head coach.

The most surprising of the three coaching changes was at Sacred Heart Prep, where Ruiz was let go in favor of Ciardella.

In five seasons at Sacred Heart, Ruiz was one of those rare coaches who got the most from his players and produced an 80-65 record, which included a CCS Division V title in 1993 and appearaces in the last two CCS Division V championship games and the NorCal tournament.

And next winter promised to be Ruiz's finest season. The Gators return every starter from last season's team that reached the CCS Division V final. "I have absolutely no comment," Ruiz said of the change.

Ciardella hasn't coached boys' basketball in a decade, but posted some legendary numbers as the Sacred Heart girls' coach. Ciardella led the Gators to four straight state titles (1993-96) and an eye-popping 168-13 record in five seasons before stepping down due to health reasons.

"It's going to be a challenge and I like challenges," said Ciardella, who will be assisted by his 24-year-old son Tony. "It gives me the opportunity to work with my son and it's something I'm really looking forward to." 

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