Alex Estrada found clarity.
During his absence, the longtime Eastlake High boys basketball coach, who was suspended indefinitely for the latter portion of the season, said he critiqued and re-evaluated himself and his actions as a representative of school.
The suspension, which carried over into the playoffs, lasted a total of nine games for improper conduct.
“I put the administration in a difficult position,” he said. “My principal had no choice but to discipline me.”
According to Estrada, he addressed the team in a postgame speech about the team’s progress on the court using inappropriate language. His choice words, which weren’t directed toward anyone in particular, offended players, parents, school officials and members of the community.
“It was irresponsible of me and a mistake,” he said. “I could have easily gotten my message across well without using any of that language. That’s where I went wrong.”
Estrada said he will return as head basketball coach next season. During his tenure, he led Eastlake to a CIF Division II championship in 2002 against Ramona, a runner-up finish in 2006 against La Costa Canyon, amassed well over 150 wins and holds one of the longest league winning streaks in the record books with 35 consecutive victories.
In his absence, Nate Crawford was named interim coach. The Eastlake assistant assumed the coaching reins against Otay Ranch and guided the Titans to a fifth seed and to the CIF Division I quarterfinals where they lost to Patrick Henry 50-48. They finished with a 20-10 record.
During his stint, Eastlake was 7-2 — the lone regular-season loss coming against Mesa League rival Mater Dei Catholic.
“He is a good friend and my mentor. Everything I know about coaching, I learned from him,” Crawford said. “He taught me a lot and how to conduct myself on the sidelines and manage a team.”
Schemes and tactics-wise, not much changed, Crawford said. Under Estrada, he is the offensive play-caller, so Crawford resumed his duties, but took on additional responsibilities such as addressing the guys in the huddle before and after games and at practices.
“I had a much more prominent role, but I told the guys we have to continue to work and perform on the court like Coach Estrada taught them,” Crawford said.
“I wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible for the guys on the team and try to coach the way he would. The kids responded.”
Throughout his experience away from the team, Estrada said he had the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, which provided him a new outlook and a chance for self-assessment.
All in all, a lesson was learned.
“I can’t take things for granted that they will always be there and it makes me value my job and role there as a teacher, coach and mentor to these kids,” Estrada said.
“It made me really appreciate what I have and my role with the school making a difference and reminded me that Eastlake has been a big part of my family for years.”
Moving forward, Estrada hopes he can put this experience behind him and is looking forward to starting next season off on the right foot.
“The people in the community have been very supportive of me throughout everything, and for that I’m very appreciative,” Estrada said. “Although unfortunate that this had to happen, it’s been a learning experience for me. I think I can use those lessons to become a better coach and mentor from here on out.”