In her goal of creating the best possible academic and athletic atmosphere possible for her students, La Quinta High School principal Rebecca Cook loves to bring in personnel from outside.
But in replacing one of the most key positions on a high school campus – one who had been the only athletic director the Blackhawks family had ever known – Cook instead found the perfect fit in a teacher she had hired just five months ago.
Starting with next school year, Juan Ramon Ruiz, who has coached football for 20 years including the last four on the La Quinta sideline, will take the reins of the La Quinta athletic department after current AD Dan Armstrong retires at the end of this school year. Some in the valley may also remember Ruiz as the head football coach at Coachella Valley High School for four years.
Since 1994 when the school opened its doors, Armstrong has been the lone sole to occupy that swivel chair in his small office in the rear of the school’s campus. He’s helped ignite the fierce rivalry with Palm Desert and the traditions that come with the Flag Game. His competitive drive has led his football teams to multiple CIF championships, and his spirit has shone through the successful coaches he’s hired.
In other words, there will only be one Dan Armstrong.
“Dan is irreplaceable,” Cook said. “He’s been a huge support for me. … He knows our traditions. If I need to know something that happened 20 years ago, he’s the guy I go to.”
So instead of replacing the backbone of the school, Cook and those involved in the hiring process over the last several weeks attempted to find someone who understood the Blackhawks traditions well and also possessed a clear view to propel the program forward.
Although the interviews extended nationwide, Cook said, she found the perfect fit in a teacher and coach already well-versed in the importance of instilling character in kids and keeping them students first, athletes second.
“He has a way with people,” said Cook about her new athletic director. “He’s a good communicator, and his energy level is unbelievable. He wants to make sure people have what they need to be successful.”
That extends from coaches all the way down to this players. When Ruiz was in his first season as the freshman football coach with the Blackhawks, Cook remembers having to come out to practice and lecture some of Ruiz’s players for citizenship issues during school hours.
When Cook asked if she could come to practice, Ruiz not only said yes, he encouraged it, and that stuck with his future principal.
“It’s been great to see firsthand how great a place this is, and to be able to teach and see all the kids and staff and coaches, it was an easy decision to apply and take a shot at this,” Ruiz said.
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Along with Ruiz’s new home in Armstrong’s old headquarters, La Quinta’s new athletic director still plans on taking on some role on the football field as an assistant as he has the last four years. Especially since, he said, this will be his son’s senior year on the gridiron.
Since the beginning of this past fall’s football season, Armstrong had made indications that he was in the midst of his final season as a head football coach. Last Wednesday, he officially resigned to Cook, and Friday he posted a letter to Blackhawk nation on the school’s Facebook page announcing as much.
The search to replace Armstrong the football coach has now officially begun, but now, Cook has one of the former coach’s closest coaching confidants to help make certain the tradition of winning and molding boys into men continues at La Quinta.
“In a perfect world, it would be someone who also teaches here, but on the other hand, I want to make sure I have the right fit for the football program,” Cook said. “Part of what he (Armstrong) has done is develop character in his kids, and a lot of it, I believe, is because of his work with them.”