Leo Garand always knew he wanted to lead a high school athletic program, and Ignacio High School came calling at the perfect time.
Garand accepted a position on July 12 as the next athletic director and assistant principal of Ignacio High School, and will start full time on Aug. 7.
As a result of his new position, Garand also announced that he will step down from his position as head wrestling coach at Durango High School, effective immediately.
Garand took over the wrestling program in July 2015. He said he was hopeful to one day pursue an administrative job as an athletic director, but it came sooner than anticipated.
He had just finished his fifth summer traveling with the Durango Youth Wrestling program and was preparing for another winter in charge of the Demons when the opportunity arose.
“Stepping down from DHS wrestling was a very tough decision, and I couldn’t make everything work,” Garand said. “We had a really successful summer trip with 23 kids going to wrestling camp; there’s going to be a really strong group of freshmen coming in who started as early as the age of 5. I am grateful for Melanie (Taylor) and Rocco (Fuschetto) giving me a chance. I am super grateful for the relationships I built, and all of those kids are really special. It was a really hard decision to make, but I chose to focus on my professional career for me and my family.”
Garand has an extensive 38-year coaching career, which dates back to 1983, when he got his start coaching wrestling in California. He also holds a master’s degree in athletic administration. He said he’s ready to make the jump from a head coach to leading an athletic program.
“I’ve coached seven different sports, both boys and girls, and am really open to working with the coaching staff, mentoring some younger coaches and just bringing some of that experience as a coach,” Garand said. “I know I’ve got big shoes to fill, as Rocky (Cundiff) did a great job. I think it’ll take me a year or so to find my groove, but I’m excited and am hopeful to build on some successful programs.”
Garand said the volleyball program at Ignacio will add an incoming assistant coach, but he expects the coaching staffs at Ignacio Middle School and IHS to remain largely unchanged.
“In Year 1, I am mostly looking to getting a handle for the job, doing it well, and from whom I’ve spoken to, it takes around three years to become comfortable in the job, and I know I’m not going to be perfect, but I’m ready to hit the ground running and do as well as I can,” Garand said.
In addition to his time at DHS, Garand led the Dolores High and Middle school wrestling programs for three seasons. He also coached at Escalante and Miller Middle schools.
Garand cited former Durango High athletic director Dave Preszler and Dolores High activities director Jimmy Langford as mentors.
He will step in for Rocky Cundiff, who retired after seven seasons in charge. Under Cundiff’s guidance, the Bobcats qualified for three Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A boys basketball state tournaments and three girls state basketball tournaments. The Bobcats also had regular state qualifiers in track and field, wrestling and cross-country, in addition to a successful baseball program.
“I’ve worked with principal Melanie (Taylor), am looking forward to working with (district Superintendent) Rocco Fuschetto, who has been very supportive so far, and I’m excited to work with (head football coach) Ponch (Garcia), as I worked with him for three years at Escalante,” Garand said.
Last year, Ignacio had state qualifiers in its first-ever season of girls cross-country; wrestling, which had the most in any sport with six qualifiers; track and field; and the girls basketball team came within an overtime period of qualifying.
Garand is hopeful that his first year in charge will see more success, both on and off the field.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “I know I’m gonna take my lumps but will try my best, and hopefully, I can help contribute to building upon a solid background of successful programs.”