Coach Joe leaves legacy of caring; Rodriguez gave students chance to ‘spread their wings’

Coach Joe Rodriguez left a legacy of lifting up the young people of Brownsville through athletics and educational endeavors of all kinds, people who knew and worked with him over a career of more than 50 years said Tuesday.

Rodriguez, 85, passed away early Tuesday morning due to complications from a stroke he suffered in late February, family members said.

Coach Tom Chavez, who Rodriguez brought to Brownsville at the beginning of his coaching career in 1969 and who regarded Rodriguez as his best friend, credited Rodriguez with inspiring many of the new athletic facilities that have come on line in recent years, including the indoor football practice facility at Rivera Early College High School, the new gymnasium at Hanna, turf soccer fields at all BISD high schools and other projects.

“All the facilities we have here now we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for him,” Chavez said.

Rodriguez coached baseball and football. His baseball Eagles went 125-72 with two state Final Four appearances. Brownsville High reached the state finals in 1965 and state semifinals in 1966.

Rodriguez’s football teams won 89 games, including the talented 1969 team that won a district championship and reached the second round of the playoffs. The 1969 team had gone 0-9 in Rodriguez’ first year in 1967, but the seniors enjoyed a banner season two years later, according to the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame, into which Rodriguez was inducted in 1991.

Chavez said Rodriguez taught him early on “to coach for the kids.”

His brother, Eduardo, a Brownsville attorney, said coach Rodriguez “believed in giving young people the opportunity to spread their wings and see how far they could go. He believed in kids … The most important thing he did was instill in young people a desire to participate and do your best in whatever you do. … He loved sports, he loved his coaches and he loved his players. He always kept an interest in the school system.”

Even late in life “he wanted to go in and help the kids of Brownsville,” he said, adding that Coach Joe this past year attended basketball games at Veterans Memorial ECHS to see his grandson Campy Rodriguez play. He also attended all home football games at St. Joseph’s High School to see another grandson, Jackson Seguin Rodriguez, play.

Rodriguez was a member of the BISD Board of Trustees that in 1992 hired Esperanza Zendejas as superintendent.

She said many of the projects that have come to fruition in recent years can trace their lineage to ideas first proposed during that time.

“When you spoke with Joe you felt better about what you were doing. He lifted you up,” she said. “As a board member, Joe was a force. He questioned. As a person, he was the type you wanted to hang around with.”

Zendejas served three years in the early ‘90s before going on to another position.

In 2014, Rodriguez again got elected to the BISD board. Zendejas said he and a few other board members called to ask if she would be willing to help out “for a few months.” It turned out to be four years.

“Joe Rodriguez has left a legacy that will not be forgotten,” she said. “Joe has helped so many young adults in so many ways. He raised up everyone he met.”

glong@brownsvilleherald.com