EDINBURG — Edinburg CISD moved to reassign both Edinburg High athletic coordinator and head football coach J.J. Leija and Edinburg Economedes athletic coordinator and head football coach Gabe Peña on Monday.
Both positions were posted to job boards and listed as vacant by Monday evening.
Leija, an Edinburg High graduate, took over as head coach of the Bobcats football program in the spring of 2016, his first head coaching opportunity after serving as an assistant coach at several programs throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
He quickly made his impact felt by leading the team to a 7-4 overall record, their first winning record since 2010, and secured the team’s first playoff appearance since 2011.
After leading his team to three straight playoff appearances to start his career at Edinburg High, the Bobcats failed to make the playoffs in 2019 during Leija’s fourth season as head coach.
The team was on pace to make its return to the Class 6A state playoffs, its fourth overall postseason berth during Leija’s tenure after posting a 4-2 regular-season record in 2020. But after an ugly on-field incident on Dec. 3 in which senior defensive end Emmanuel Duron charged at and shoved a referee to the turf after being ejected from the Bobcats’ District 31-6A zone play-in game, the Edinburg school district decided to pull the Bobcats out of the playoffs.
On Dec. 14 after an investigation of the incident, the University Interscholastic League made the unanimous decision to place Leija under a one-year probation period set to begin at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.
During his tenure as Edinburg High’s head football coach, Leija compiled a 27-21 record and three playoff appearances.
Peña, meanwhile, spent the last 20 years as a part of the Jaguars staff, joining the team in 2001 after a five-year stint as the head coach at Port Isabel.
In 2011, 10 years after joining the Jaguar staff, Peña took over the head coaching duties at Economedes where he would spend the latter half of his two-decade career with the team.
After tallying an 0-10 record in his first season as the Jaguars head coach, Peña quickly turned the program around taking the team to the playoffs in four of the next five seasons.
Since his last playoff appearance in 2016, though, Peña’s teams have failed to produce winning records going 10-26 overall, including an 0-6 record during a shortened 2020 season.
During his 15-year head coaching career in the Rio Grande Valley, Peña accumulated a 71-84 record, including a 40-61 record in his 10-year tenure as head coach of the Jaguars. Peña also led his team to four postseason appearances during his time at Economedes.
Neither Leija nor Peña responded to requests for comment from The Monitor on Monday.
Edinburg CISD declined to comment on the matter citing its policy to not comment on personnel decisions.
Edinburg High and Edinburg Economedes become the fourth and fifth head football coaching positions to open up since the end of the 2020 season after both Harlingen South’s Brian Ricci and Los Fresnos’ Patrick Brown were reassigned by their respective school districts and after former Mission High head coach Koy Detmer accepted the same position at Somerset High School to become his late father, Sonny’s, successor.
The Monitor’s Ivan Palacios also contributed to this report.