Rio Rancho football: Pannoni resigns, Pino replaces him

Gerry Pannoni is seen on the sidelines for Rio Rancho High during their preseason scrimmage against Los Lunas High last August. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Rio Rancho High School both lost their head football coach and hired a new one within hours of each other on Wednesday.

Gerry Pannoni announced Wednesday morning to his team that he was resigning; the school, acting quickly, announced the hiring of its offensive coordinator, Nate Pino, as Pannoni’s successor mid-afternoon.

Pannoni, 64, said in a phone interview that he was returning to Virginia soon to be near his wife, Lisa, who died earlier this month of MSA, or multiple system atrophy. She will be buried in Virginia, where the couple lived before moving to New Mexico.

“I can’t mentally be in New Mexico and my wife buried in Virginia and I can’t visit her,” Pannoni said. “We were best friends. … I’m not the guy who goes and hangs out with guys or something. I hung out with my wife.

Pannoni was hired in early February 2020, about six weeks before the pandemic put an end to spring sports in New Mexico that year.

He coached the Ram football team for two seasons, both in 2021. They were a combined 12-3, including the abbreviated spring season a year ago. Pannoni led Rio Rancho to the Class 6A state title game last November when the Rams fell to Cleveland.

MSA is the same disease that claimed the life of Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Mike Brown last summer.

Pannoni had been coaching the Rams while caring for his ailing wife since the couple arrived in New Mexico two years ago.

“I have to be near her,” Pannoni said.

He added that he was not leaving for another job in Virginia and had nothing planned yet, including a teaching position. He said he will finish the current school year at Rio Rancho High, where he is a physical education teacher.

“That will come with time, I guess. I will understand that,” Pannoni said of his future plans.

When Heath Ridenour resigned as Cleveland’s head football coach in January, the school district appointed a new coach in Robert Garza the next day.

Rio Rancho didn’t even wait that long on Wednesday when it selected Pino, 40, a graduate of Rio Rancho High in 2000, to lead one of the state’s top programs.

Pino holds a rare distinction at Rio Rancho: He coached at his alma mater with all of Ram’s previous head coaches except Bill Moon, the first coach, whom Pino played for. Pino then coached with Wilson Holland, Phil Lopez, Mike Worley, David Howes and then Pannoni.

“I’m excited,” Pino said. “It’s definitely one of the best jobs, if not the best, in New Mexico. Dave and Gerry have carried this over the past (few) years, building a foundation of hard work.

Pino was a finalist for the job during the search that gave Pannoni in 2020, and the two men knew each other on the East Coast since Pino also coached in Virginia, at a school in Alexandria, very close to the school ( South County) where Pannoni coached.

Pino has served as the Rams’ offensive coordinator since 2019. This will be the University of New Mexico graduate’s first head coaching position.

Things moved very quickly on Wednesday when the vacancy was filled; Pino said Pannoni suggested it to the directors. Pino said the two men spoke at length on Tuesday and it was clear Pannoni was going to step down.

“I have enormous respect for coach Pannoni. The amount of effort he was able to put into this football team, with everything he had to do at home, is incredible,” Pino said. , who was an all-state player for the Rams.

Four of the six teams that were in District 1-6A last fall changed coaches this offseason, the others being Cleveland, Cibola and West Mesa. Chris Howe replaced Rod Williams at Cibola and Landrick Brody took over the Mustangs program from Anthony Ansotigue. But West Mesa won’t be in that district next season.

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