THE APPOINTMENT of PBA legend Fortunato Co as the new head coach of the Mapua Cardinals basketball team is another case of a star alumnus taking the hot seat for the alma mater.
There’s no doubt that the player delightfully dubbed by broadcaster Dick Ildefonso as “The Fortune Cookie” brings impressive credentials as a former Cardinal and NCAA MVP, pro player and coach of the Crispa team that played in the PBL in the 1990s.
Co was one of the PBA’s gutsiest shooters. At the point of a three-on-two fastbreak, he could hoist a jump shot from the top of the key with supreme confidence. His trademark Beatle hairdo bobbed up and down as he twirled around defenses.
When the three-point shot came around, Co took rainbow flips from difficult angles after throwing off a befuddled guard assigned to contain him. Yes, contain, because when The Fortune Cookie was on a roll, he could string points faster than you could record them.
Co clearly had a passion for the game and it showed in his college days and in his 14 PBA seasons. His fire and knowledge are what Mapua hopes to harness to improve on its less than stellar finishes in the NCAA of late.
The new coach, though, will have to deal immediately with recruitment and team chemistry. All collegiate teams are aggressively attracting talent from everywhere.
Mapua needs to beef up its lineup in order to battle on the same terms as defending champion San Beda and perennial contenders Letran and San Sebastian.
Once the recruitment and lineup are in place, the next order of business is to build a team accustomed to playing together.
Co’s experience with Crispa, one of the most star-studded rosters in Philippine basketball, has taught him that individual skills won’t be enough to get the job done. Under Baby Dalupan and Tommy Manotoc, Crispa knew how to mesh its talents to win 13 conference titles including two Grand Slams in 1976 and 1983.
Getting a former star alumnus to coach a school team cuts both ways. Sometimes it works and sometimes, it just falls apart. Regardless of the passage of time, the alumni coach is familiar with the tradition and culture of the institution.
Boosters and supporters are not unfamiliar faces but most likely former schoolmates or even teammates. Administrators and alumni are hopeful that the new coach will instill the winning ways that he knew so well during his playing years.
La Salle and San Beda have more often than not opted for alumni to coach their teams and have succeeded. The Green Archers won a string of UAAP titles with Franz Pumaren while San Beda won with Frankie Lim and high school alumnus Ronnie Magsanoc last year.
But sometimes the school community could suffocate an alumni because as the saying goes familiarity breeds contempt. A school’s culture may be detrimental to the athletic campaign because criticism during a losing season could be brutally intense as the closeness of the community makes negative comments more piercing than usual.
The pressure to win could also be enormous especially if the alumni coach won titles as a player. That’s why at times, some schools have opted to try an experienced coach who is not a alumni.
Atoy Co will be a teacher most of time and his students will definitely learn from one of the greatest to ever play the game on our shores. He knows he will need time, at least a year most likely, to get his basketball program in gear at his alma mater.
Whether in class or on the basketball court, education never connects with just one class.