WATSONVILLE — After losing his position as the head coach of the Monte Vista Christian baseball team in 2016, Don Keathley could have left for another coaching gig at any time over the last two years.
Something in his gut told him to stay.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Keathley said. “I felt like this is where I was supposed to be.”
Sometimes it’s good to trust your gut.
Keathley has returned to his old position as the head coach of the M.V.C. baseball team, the school announced on Wednesday.
In a statement, Dean of Athletics Matt Coleman said Keathley was “uniquely qualified to fulfill all the criteria set forth in our search.”
“He has experience playing at all levels (including professional), has led a program successfully and knows what it means to be a transformational coach,” Coleman said in the statement.
Keathley, a Santa Cruz High alumnus, guided the Mustangs to a pair of league championships and the program’s first-ever section final appearance during his previous eight-year stint from 2009 to 2016. But he said this is a fresh start for both him and the program.
“I’m not trying to finish anything I started,” Keathley said. “This a completely new job.”
Keathley takes over for Case Rigby, who stepped down after two years at the helm. Rigby was an assistant under Keathley and stepped in after the latter was informed he would not return following a 13-15 finish — the program’s fourth straight losing season at the time — in 2016.
“I was shocked but I didn’t get mad,” Keathley said of being let go. “I had to use it as a wake up call. I knew I had to change things a bit.”
Keathley stuck around at the Watsonville-based private school in his role as a physical education teacher after being relieved of his duties. He also coached the freshman football team and served as the head coach of the frosh-soph baseball team last spring.
He was also a pitching coach at Hartnell College in 2017.
Keathley said coaching at the lower level opened his eyes. Focusing on team chemistry, player development and fun changed his outlook of how to build a team.
Returning to school and earning his master’s degree in coaching and athletic administration also helped broaden his horizons.
“It was humbling,” Keathley said. “I have this totally different perspective…I want the kids, all the kids, to feel like they have hope that they’re going to contribute to the team.”
Keathley had instant success as M.V.C.’s head coach, winning a Monterey Bay League championship and advancing to the Central Coast Section Division III championship game in 2009.
The Mustangs qualified for the postseason in each of the next four seasons and won another MBL title in 2012 before the dip in success that led to Keathley’s dismissal.
M.V.C. finished 11-13 during Rigby’s first season and 8-19 last spring.
The Mustangs not only missed the playoffs last season, but also finished last in the MBL’s Gabilan division at 4-14.
M.V.C. lost last season’s two top hitters, Garret Laine and Jacob Beardsley, to graduation, but will return 13 players from a roster of 19. Pitchers Marshall Silva, Ian Koenig, Tom Avila, Matthew Sanders and Harrison Zischke lead the strong crop of players, which will also receive a boost from a junior varsity team that finished 23-4 last spring.
“You take a look at the roster and the arms that we have on there are impressive,” Keathley said. “The talent is there."
With the MBL and Mission Trail Athletic League merging into a 33-school super league, M.V.C. will compete in one of the toughest leagues in the CCS next spring: the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan division.
The Mustangs will play against San Benito High, Gilroy High, Christopher High, Monterey High, Palma High, Salinas High and St. Francis High. Five of those teams qualified for the CCS playoffs and four advanced to the semifinal round.
“I think we’re the best last place team in the state of California,” Keathley said.
Keathley said he’s simply happy to be a part of a new exciting wave of athletics at M.V.C. under Head Master Mitchell Salerno. The baseball team will debut new uniforms and a new logo, the basketball teams will have a new hardwood floor to break in and the school also hired a Sports Performance Coach, Humberto Medina Jr., to help develop the student-athletes.
“The environment [here] is just off the charts right now,” Keathley said. “That’s what I told Matt during the interview process: ‘I love this place, I love this school and I love the kids...’ This is where I want to retire.”