By Dave Wagner
Armando Quiroz wasn’t looking to change jobs.
A month or so ago, Eastern New Mexico University wasn’t preparing to change softball coaches.
The 55-year-old Quiroz, who has won three Arizona prep state championships in a four-year span at Tucson’s Flowing Wells, is ENMU’s fourth head softball coach in just over two years.
Quiroz, who worked as a movie key grip for 20 years before suffering a back injury, was in town Monday to begin his new duties with the Zias, who open the season Feb. 4-5 in a tournament at Angelo State.
He spent eight years at Flowing Wells, the last six as head coach. The Lady Caballeros won a 4A championship in Arizona in 1999 and Class 5A titles in 2000 and 2002.
“College (coaching) has been my dream,” he said. “I went back to school and got into coaching, and some people have been very nice to give me opportunities.
“I want to make the most of this opportunity.”
He got into softball partly because he coached a daughter, Rebekah, as a youngster. She went on to play at the University of Arizona and last summer competed professionally in the sport.
The Zias reached the NCAA Division II national tournament in 2001, but co-coaches Kathleen and James Rodriguez left just before the start of the 2003 season to take over a new program at Division I Texas-El Paso. Interim coach Ron Landschoot led ENMU to a 24-29 record that spring and was replaced by Kevin Blaskowski, whose team went 11-36 overall and 1-19 in the Lone Star Conference South Division in 2004.
Late last month, Blaskowski was hired at West Texas A&M, which will begin competing in the LSC South in softball in 2006.
“Every year you just have to prove yourself again,” said ENMU junior second baseman Tracy Jordan, who has been around long enough to be a part of each coaching change. “It was tougher my freshman year, but it’s weird because we were used to the way ‘Coach B’ did things.”
Still, Blaskowski brought in some new talent this season and Jordan said things should still be in place for a solid season.
“We still have the same team (as in the fall),” she said. “It’s nice he doesn’t have to put a team together. I think this is the first time since I’ve been here that the team has really come together.”
Quiroz, who has close friends coaching at Baylor University, said Blaskowski contacted him after he called Baylor coaches seeking recommendations for a replacement. Amber Daniel, a graduate assistant who has been running practice in the interim period, also came from Baylor.
“Everybody I’ve talked to has raved about (Quiroz),” ENMU athletic director Mike Maguire said. “The kids met with him and they liked him.
“He loves softball. He got into it because his daughter played, and he’s been successful at it.”
While Quiroz said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he got here, he was impressed with what he saw.
“The girls are fantastic,” he said. “When I came out for my first practice I said, ‘Just do what you’ve been doing.’ I was very impressed with their work ethic and the whole attitude.”
The Zias were picked for last in the South in the LSC’s preseason poll. While each of the other five teams earned at least one first-place vote, ENMU had one vote for fourth place, two for fifth and 13 for sixth.
“Judging from our record last year, I could understand that, but we had a pretty good fall,” Jordan said. “But it’s OK. It’s just another motivating factor for us.”