Former Española Valley High School boys basketball coach James Branch is shown holding the plaque he received after being voted Coach of the Year in District 2-4A. Branch guided the Sundevils to the regular season District 2-4A championship and the Sundevils were undefeated (8-0) during the regular District 2-4A season. A week later (April 4), Branch was out of a job after he was not offered a contract for the upcoming season by Española Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez.
Branch, Salazar Out At Española
By George Morse
Española Valley High School is looking for a new boys basketball coach and a new volleyball coach after basketball coach James Branch and volleyball coach Damon Salazar were not rehired. Coaches are offered contracts on a year-to-year basis and neither was offered a contract for the upcoming seasons. Española Valley Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez has said that the decision was made that the programs needed to head in a different direction and that it was a personnel matter.
Branch had completed his second season as coach at Española, during which he led the Sundevils to a 17-10 record. In his first season, the Sundevils were 28-2, losing to Belen High School in the Class 5A state championship game. Overall, he was 45-12 at Española.
A veteran of the Northern New Mexico high school basketball scene, Branch’s career spans four decades. He won a state championship in 1994 as boys basketball coach at Questa High School. He has been boys basketball coach at Taos High School and Mora High School, as well as girls basketball coach at Mesa Vista High School and McCurdy High School. A graduate of Mora High School, he played basketball collegiately at New Mexico Highlands University.
Branch has not returned several phone calls.
Salazar took over the Española Valley volleyball program in 2009. An Española Valley graduate, Salazar has not coached at any other school. Last season, the Lady Sundevils were 14-8 and advanced to the state volleyball tournament for the seventh time during Salazar’s tenure. His record as a coach is 131-91 overall.
“I’m not thinking about coaching at another school,” Salazar said. “Española is the only place I wanted to coach. That’s because I’m from here. I wanted to make sure that the kids here were taken care of.”
Salazar devoted 20 years to the Española volleyball program. In addition to his time as head coach, Salazar was a well-known club volleyball coach. He ran fundraisers, held volleyball camps and coached a team in the summer leagues as well.
“They didn’t really give me a reason (for his firing),” Salazar said. “They say they want to go in a different direction. I don’t know what that direction will be. I’ve gotten calls from lot of people asking, ‘What the heck are they doing?’”
Salazar said that 14 of his players have gone on to play volleyball at the next level in college and that his former players have become productive adults.
“I’m very proud of what they have become,” Salazar said. “The kids have been really successful.”
Salazar wonders if it was just something personal.
“Maybe they just didn’t want me as coach,” he said.
Española Valley High School volleyball coach Damon Salazar was not offered a contract to coach for the upcoming season. Salazar had been volleyball coach at Española since 2009 and the Lady Sundevils had made seven trips to the state volleyball tournament during his tenure. Fourteen of his players had gone on to compete at the collegiate level.