THE transfer of Aldin Ayo, former Letran Knight who led his alma mater to an incredible and most unlikely championship this past National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season over the heavily favored San Beda Red Lions, to La Salle has been controversial, to say the least. People from different sides of the spectrum bandy about arguments from opportunity to ethics.
Before I offer my opinion on that, this isn’t the first time this happened, and it will surely not be the last. The first person who came to mind was Pilo Pumaren, who led University of the East (UE) to a title in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) before not only making the jump to La Salle in the early 1980s, but also taking with his son, Derrick, who ran the point for the Warriors.
There have also been jumps, not exactly lateral in movement—Chot Reyes from Ateneo to Purefoods in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), which left the Blue Eagles in the lurch, thus, sending some recruits away from Loyola Heights in 1993; Ato Agustin, who led San Sebastian to an NCAA title in 2009, after which he was brought onboard to coach San Miguel in the PBA; Boycie Zamar, who helped in the revitalization of the Red Warriors, after which he also received a call-up by SMB to join the coaching staff in 2013; and there’s more.
I can understand how Letranistas feel about Ayo’s departure. Over in Ateneo, after John Flores led the Ateneo Lady Eagles to a championship, his second, he was fired over a row regarding how he handled the team. Flores resurfaced in La Salle Greenhills, where he helped revitalize their program, just as the Lady Eagles floundered until this season. While I will not take anything away from current Ateneo Women’s Coach Erika Dy, the return of Flores, unofficially helping the team this season, is hardly coincidental. There is synergy.
And there was former UAAP men’s football Most Valuable Player (MVP) Vincent Santos, who under his guidance the Ateneo Men’s Football Team won a three-peat in the early years of the new millennium. After a row with school officials, he packed his bags for FEU, where he worked his magic. The Tamaraws’ football program is probably the best in the country now, as they have been winning one title after another, with many of their alumni becoming fixtures in club and national teams.
The timing of Ayo’s departure was odd for sure. Letran was supposed to celebrate the monumental victory that will resound forever not only in the school’s annals but also Philippine sports history, yet, instead, it turned into a somber sendoff party with many upset.
Whether it was for money, opportunity, or a deal struck between each team’s officials as the rumor mill has it, one cannot begrudge another for moving. Everyone has their own concerns and their own ideas for their future. Furthermore, the move is a high profile one that can help Ayo’s career.
If you ask any college coach, they want to move to the pro ranks, which is why Norman Black wanted to badly go back to the PBA. That is why Jong Uichico refused to move back to college when he was removed from his Ginebra post. If La Salle is a step away from a pro move, then why not?
It is also possible that if one takes a look at Letran’s lineup for next season, they will be missing a lot and will not be as strong, whereas La Salle will look tantalizing with Jeron Teng, Thomas Torres and Jason Perkins back for one more go around with junior Prince Rivero and Ben Mbala, who will be making his long-delayed debut. The prospect of coaching a team like that in the UAAP, backed up by that terrific support from management, is too good an opportunity to pass up.
Of course, there is a price to all that. One has to win. Alumnus or not, the price for failure is rather unpleasant (and that is an understatement).
Some wonder if a La Salle alumnus should have instead been asked to take over the head-coaching job. As I previously pointed out, there was Pilo Pumaren before, so it isn’t like this is the first time. The elder Pumaren didn’t win right away but his sons, Derrick and Franz, who played for the school, as well, also led them eventually to titles.
This past NCAA season, I wrote that one reason for the pickup in play by the teams was that they were manned by quality coaches from Jamike Jarin (even if San Beda didn’t win its six-peat, you have a very good coach) to Aric del Rosario to Vergel Meneses to Topex Robinson to Jerry Codiñera and Ayo. I had the opportunity to watch Ayo up close from the summer all the way to the season’s end, and it was a masterful job.
It is good to see that the coaches are recognized for the job they do (and not only the players).
The days of alumni coaching their respective alma maters are done. There will always be alumni coaches and there will always be call-ups from left field. No one school has a monopoly on talent, smarts, savvy and heart. The only thing constant is change. There are no right and wrong reasons. After all, you do have to look out for your own future.
The sad thing is that Letran feels like it’s a victim of a heist. Maybe Aldin should have informed school management ahead of time, instead of them learning about the possible move from others. But it’s done. The Dominicans, who showed an incredible amount of restraint and compassion, and Letran as a school, should take heart however that their team is one that knows all about impossible odds. They will be back for sure. Hopefully, after this, they take a long and hard look at their program, and how it fares in this sea of change swirling around them.