Rick Hoerner has rebuilt program during tenture

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FARMINGTON — Rick Hoerner didn’t plan to stick around beyond one season at Navajo Prep, but he soon felt compelled to continue building a foundation.

The Eagles boys basketball coach chose to stay, and Prep quickly became relevant at the state level.

The Eagles are 66-24 with Hoerner at the helm since the 2015-2016 season, and they’re now on the verge of making their fourth straight state playoff appearance and winning their second district title during that span.

But this year is Hoerner’s last ride, as he will step down after the season ends to relocate to Portland, Oregon. Hoerner’s wife, Mary, started working at Portland State University back in August.

Mary Hoerner saw no chance for advancement in her job running San Juan College's Child and Family Development Center. So, she applied for and accepted a similar role at PSU.

"(Mary’s) followed (me around) as a basketball coach long enough where it’s her time," Rick Hoerner said.

He broke the news of his planned relocation to his players on the first day of school.

“They actually took it better than I thought,” Hoerner said. “I never had any plans of leaving here if my wife’s job situation hadn’t changed. I would’ve died here. I love coaching here.”

Hoerner served as Piedra Vista’s boys basketball coach from 2000 to 2009 and was convinced that would be his last stop.

Then, Mike Tillman, the then-Prep athletic director who also worked with Hoerner at the Civitan Golf Course in Farmington, approached Hoerner about the Eagles’ boys basketball coach opening.

Hoerner took the job on Oct. 13, 2015, becoming Prep’s fourth coach over a five-year span.

Changes come fast

Prep lacked a winning tradition prior to Hoerner’s arrival.

The team’s last stellar year had come in the 1975-1976 season, when it was called Navajo Methodist Mission School and reached the state finals.

Hoerner got started one week before the first day of practice in October 2015.

Prep had just six players show up that first day, and the first game was scheduled for Nov. 19, 2015.

“They were very skeptical. They’ve had coaches walk in and out of their lives,” Hoerner said. “My first open gym here was probably the funniest thing that happened. At PV, we played man (defense); we played it hard. I turn my back, I have two teams playing zone in open gym, which I’d never seen in my life.”

Out of that initial group, only two had played man defense before. Hoerner had to cast aside what the team was accustomed to doing on defense.

By the end of Hoerner’s first year, Prep had doubled its roster size, grown accustomed to playing man defense, won a district title and gone 20-8 for the season. 

A new era had begun.

As time went by, Prep eventually competed against formidable teams like Silver and Portales in the playoffs. Those experiences in turn gave the Eagles the confidence to beat foes like PV, Aztec, Shiprock and Sandia Prep this year.

“(Hoerner has) just built a big program, and everyone knows Prep here now. He has his ways of getting on to us when we’re not doing things right, but he also has his ways of building us up and building our confidence,” point guard Thomas Montanez said. “We’ve all been dreading (his last) day to come since he mentioned that to us at the beginning of this year.”

Making the most of Hoerner’s last ride

Eagle players are driven to not only plow through district, but also go even deeper in the playoffs.

And after having faced tougher teams in Class 4A over the last two years, the Eagles look to capitalize on those experiences this year in Class 3A.

More important, Hoerner's players are driven to show their recent success won’t end when he leaves.

“We all know it’s coming to an end. We’re taking every practice and every game as if it’s our last,” shooting guard Kasey James said. “It’s going to suck when he’s gone. We’re just going to have to play for him all out.”

Hoerner and players are adamant that Prep's rising status will entice Hoerner’s successor, especially with key players like Montanez, Treston Yazzie and Lance Morris returning next season.

“In all honesty, this should be the most attractive job around,” Hoerner said. “You’d be crazy not to want this job.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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