By Mark Godi
Staff Writer, News-Sentinel
In his 34th year as Tokay High School’s wrestling coach, Rod Gaines has confirmed that this year will be his last.
Gaines oversaw the Tigers’ 76-6 pounding of Edison at The Jungle in what was his final home dual. He plans to give officiating a try and will remain at the school as a physical education teacher.
With an illustrious career coming to an end, Gaines sat during Thursday’s match with former wrestler Andrae Sanchez who is sitting out his senior year with cancer. A modest crowd was on hand with a few parents taking pictures and shaking hands with Gaines. Afterward, his team cleaned up the gym and everyone trickled out.
“It’s just the right time,” Gaines said. “I’m like that old mat in the other room. I’m old, hard and beat up. I’m still functional, but it’s time to let loose for a new one.”
The humor is typical, as Gaines has often deflected talking about his accomplishments.
Gaines transferred from Lodi to Tokay his senior year and was part of the school’s first graduating class in 1973. He played football and wrestled in high school and at Delta College before transferring to Cal State East Bay (then known as Cal State Hayward). Gaines first became an assistant wrestling coach at Tokay under Greg Anderson before taking over in 1981.
From 1990 to 2006, the Tigers won 15 league championships. Last year, Tokay won the Tri-City Athletic League and appear poised this year to send him off with another. The Tigers are undefeated in the TCAL with only St. Mary’s to go on Tuesday, followed by the league tournament Feb. 14-15. If they do win the TCAL, it would be the school’s 23rd league wrestling championship and Gaines’ 18th.
In 2006, Gaines was honored with the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Model Coach Award. At that time, he was 144-13-1 for his career and had notched nine coach of the year awards.
If not for Lincoln winning the SJAA in 1999, Gaines would have boasted 13 straight championships. Coach Michael Sandler was the Trojans coach and will always remember Gaines as a class act.
“Rod was always a gentleman,” Sandler said. “After we beat them, he came right over to me and shook my hand and even his wife came over and congratulated me.
“He is an icon that will be sorely missed.”
Jay Kranich was on Gaines’ first league championship team in 1987 and his two sons, Dylan (145) and Kris (171), wrestle for Tokay now. To this day, the eldest Kranich, 45, says Gaines still intimidates him, but in a good way and there is no other coach he’d want his kids wrestling for. Jay also played football for the Tigers where Gaines was a defensive coach at the time. That’s where Kranich’s respect was earned.
“If we didn’t shut out our opponent, we had to do a pushup for every yard we allowed on defense,” Kranich said. “He’d do every pushup with us and he’d be smiling while we were all crying and spitting.
“He was tough on the exterior, but could put on the white gloves so to speak and talk to you to get you through the day.”
Athletic director Louis Franklin says he’s talked with Gaines over the last few years about retirement, but this year it was serious. Franklin was unable to say who some of the potential replacements might be or give a timetable for a hiring.
First-year girls wrestling coach George Bozovich was on hand Thursday night and confirmed that he will not apply for the position. Gaine’s assistant coach and former Tokay wrestler Ed Carlos declined discussion of the job.
“Coach Gaines has a lot of wins,” Carlos said. “But it’s not about wins and losses with him. It’s about how many people he’s affected and he’s affected a lot.”