Variety is the spice of life. That’s what you discover when dealing with Red Mountain softball coach Rich Pikosz and Marcos de Niza softball coach Ron Cosner.
Pikosz wears his emotions on his sleeve. Excitable. Restless. Softball’s answer to the late Doc Zinke.
Cosner would be a great poker player. You wouldn’t be able to tell if he had nothing or a royal flush when it came time to lay cards.
Both veteran coaches hope they have a bullet or two left in their coaching guns because each is retiring at season’s end. With their teams in the losers’ brackets of the 5A Division I and Division II state tournaments, today could be the day they hang up their caps.
Red Mountain takes on Chandler and Marcos battles Tucson Flowing Wells, both today at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
Pikosz, who coached several sports, including basketball, baseball and track in Illinois, decided 13 years ago to apply for the softball opening at Red Mountain.
“I had coached just about every sport but that,’’ said Pikosz, who has coached football and track at Red Mountain since the school opened in 1988. ‘‘I had daughters at the time playing at the lower levels. I knew I was good coach. I read stuff and looked at tapes. It was something I went for and I got it.
‘‘It can be maddening sometimes. But I’ve had a lot of fun coaching it.’’
Neither Pikosz or Cosner has won a title (Cosner finished runner-up in 1992 and 2003). But that’s OK.
Pikosz and Cosner possess something far more important. They are models for other coaches.
They have an affection for what they do or they wouldn’t have stayed with it this long.
These are traits that appear less and less frequently in the high pressure, limited-return business of high school coaching.
The rambunctious, feisty 5-foot-7 Pikosz has piloted Red Mountain softball since 1994. He absorbs more than his share of verbal abuse from coworkers and friends. His lunchtime basketball games with colleagues are legendary. Imagine a nonathletic Spud Webb competing against taller, bulkier competitors. And really believing he belongs on the floor with them. That’s Pikosz.
‘‘When I made that hire it was basically because of how well I knew Rich interacted with kids,’’ Mesa school district athletic director Steve Hogen said. ‘‘He’s very positive with the kids, that’s what was needed. Was he a real skilled softball strategist at the time? No. But he’s gotten better all the time and been a pretty successful coach.’’
Pikosz teaches auto shop. That brings a different take to mentoring 15- to 18-year-old girls on the fine arts of softball. What’s said in the auto shop often doesn’t translate well on the diamond with young ladies. Pikosz has had to learn that over the years and has adapted by refining his communications skills.
‘‘We’ve teased him pretty good over the years, maybe worse,’’ Red Mountain football coach Jim Jones said. ‘‘But he’s an awesome guy. He’s the perfect JV football coach. The kids love him to death. He’s tough with the them, but he’ll be loose with them. He’s a big kid at heart himself. He’s not afraid to joke and clown with them at the right times. When you get down to it, he’s soft-hearted.’’
Cosner has coached softball since 1980 and has been the head coach at Marcos since 1990. He taught business for 30 years at McClintock and Marcos. He’s also coached football.
Cosner has been retired from teaching since May of 1994, but has continued to coach golf and softball until recently.
‘‘I was ready to leave teaching when I did, but not coaching,’’ Cosner said. ‘‘It gave me something to do and still be around kids. I gave up (coaching) golf three years ago. At the start of this year I wasn’t sure if I wanted to leave yet. But the good attitude this team had I thought, ‘This would be a good year to go out.’ ’’
Cosner is easygoing and generally brings a businessteacher approach to the field. Cosner’s teams could be down six runs or up six runs and you couldn’t tell. He has a sense of humor although some may not believe it. Three years ago when the Padres made a remarkable run at the 5A state title as a region No. 3 seed they pulled off upset after upset. Inside Cosner undoubtedly was giddy; on the outside very calm and collected.
Cosner said he’s enjoyed coaching this year as much as any because of his team’s chemistry. It doesn’t always happen to the best of coaches no matter how good a guy or gal they are as coaches of 30-plus years will tell you.
So what do these coaches owe me, covering their teams the last 13 to 17 years? Cosner owes me nothing. Being a good friend of Barry Sollenberger is enough payment — as well as being the genuinely good guy that he is.
Pikosz? Well, he has a little construction business on the side, which might be something he delves into more when he retires later this month. A nice deck for the spa that might soon go up in my backyard would be nice. And considering all the quote sanitizing I’ve done over the years, it only seems fair.