After one year gaining redemption by the side of a man he used to watch hoop it up at San Luis Obispo High as a kid, Ron Barba is back.
On Wednesday, Cuesta College athletic director Bob Mariucci tabbed Barba, an assistant coach under Rusty Blair with the Cougars men’s basketball team last season, to become only the second head coach of the Cuesta women’s team since its inception 30 years ago.
The hiring is pending approval by the college’s board of trustees at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4, and comes only three weeks after former coach Ed Musolff announced his retirement.
“We are very excited about hiring Ron,” Mariucci said. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience that we are impressed with, and we are fortunate to have him on our staff.”
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Barba, 53, joined the Cuesta men’s program late in its preparations for this past season but went on to install his personalized offense in time for Western State Conference play and assisted Blair in leading the Cougars to a 26-6 record, their second-straight conference title and a berth in the Southern California Regional Final.
Blair said Barba brought a humble attitude into his first experience at the collegiate level but that he wasn’t afraid to jump right in and instruct players at the same time.
In the season’s first weekend, “he went on the board and was giving them a diagram of some things they had to work on,” Blair said. “You could tell already that he wasn’t going to sit back and watch the show. I remember sitting back with a big smile on my face thinking ‘Yes, this is what I need.’
“I’m sure glad we had him here because he was extremely valuable to me to have on the staff and extremely instrumental in the success we had last year.”
Barba is notable to many for turning around a struggling St. Joseph High girls basketball program, winning the Knights’ first section title in almost 20 years and for the controversial exit that followed.
In five years at St. Joseph, Barba racked up a 115-23 record. In his final season in 2008-09, he led the Knights to a 29-3 record and ran undefeated through the Los Padres League.
A behind-the-scenes run-in with administrators at the school led to Barba’s abrupt replacement on the heels of a CIF-Southern Section Division IV championship, the program’s first in 19 years.
A retired Los Alamos Elementary School superintendent who still works for the district in a part-time capacity, Barba also served stints as the head boys basketball coach at Righetti (1992-98) and Cuyama Valley (1986-91).
Barba got an associate degree from Cuesta College in 1977, before transferring to play basketball at Cal State Stanislaus and, later, one professional season in Australia.
He graduated from San Luis Obispo High in 1975 and remembers watching Blair — an agile 6-foot-9 sharpshooter who went on to play at Oregon and overseas — star for the Tigers in the late 1960s.
“When things happened at St. Joe, Rusty was the first guy that called me,” Barba said. “This has been just as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. Well, I guess that’s probably the truth.”
Barba takes over a Cuesta women’s program coming off a 4-21 season. Known for running an upstanding program, Musolff had seen his record fluctuate since being named state coach of the year in 1997.
Since that season, when the Cougars finished seventh in the state, Musolff had as many 20-win seasons — four — as he did single-digit victory totals.
Barba’s biggest challenge in the short term is filling out his roster. In the long term, it’s unseating defending state champion Ventura, which has won the WSC North title 20 years running.
“My first five games at St. Joe, I remember saying to myself, ‘What did I get into?’ ” Barba said. “We got plastered our first five.
“Once we started teaching the system, four or five weeks in, I started seeing a change, and, boom, we won 11 straight.”
Before he went on to become an LPL rival of Morro Bay girls basketball coach Cary Nerelli, Barba actually got his start coaching high school basketball as a junior varsity coach and varsity assistant under Nerelli when he coached the Pirates boys in 1980.
Nerelli, who shared the same teacher’s lounge in Morro Bay with Musolff for years, has sent 20 girls basketball players to Cuesta and believes Barba will be able to have a near-immediate impact on the success of the program.
“I think he can turn it around in a year, I really do,” Nerelli said. “The players are out there. They’re not all from this area, but he’s got contacts, he’s got energy. He has the ability to bring players in, and at a J.C., really, it’s all about talent.”