The Coast News Group
Tom Tarantino. Courtesy photo

Longtime coach Tom Tarantino to take leave from El Camino

CARLSBAD — One of the region’s most successful basketball coaches announced recently that he would take a medical leave of absence from his head coaching position at El Camino.

Tom Tarantino, who replaced longtime Wildcats coach Ray Johnson in 2014 at the helm of one of North County’s most successful programs, said that he had requested — and received — a two-year medical leave of absence.

Tarantino said that he requested the leave to address several issues, including his health — Tarantino will have sports hernia surgery this summer — that of his wife, who is recovering from breast cancer and his mother, who is in an assisted living facility.

“With everything mushrooming at once, at some point you have to slow everything down and manage all of these situations, and hopefully when everything is all organized and it’s a right fit, I’ll come back,” Tarantino said. 

Tarantino guided the Wildcats to a 102-53 record in five seasons and two appearances in the CIF Division 1 championship game — a loss in 2018 to Santa Fe Christian and a 2016 loss to Kearny. 

He fondly recalls both seasons. In the 2016 season, his second, the team won 29 games and made it to the regional semifinals of the state Division 4 playoffs. In the 2018 season, the scrappy, undersized group led by 6-3 guard Jalen Flanagan — who is now at San Francisco State — overachieved and made it to the finals.

“I’ve had a lot of fond memories, it was a very positive experience,” Tarantino said. “I’ve had a good time, and I think the program is in a good place, they’re a big man away from being right there with anyone.”

Before El Camino, Tarantino coached and served as athletic director of Army and Navy Academy, where he coached a Devin Watson-led Warriors team to the 2013 CIF Division 4 championship.

Tarantino started his head coaching career at St. Dominic High in Oyster Bay, New York, winning the state private school championship in 1996.

He moved across country to Carlsbad, leading the Lancers to the 2000 San Diego Section Division I championship. The Lancers beat El Camino 59-57 in double overtime a game widely considered one of the best championship games in modern CIF history.

Tarantino, 59, moved to Bishop’s where he spent 10 years as athletic director and basketball coach, going to four San Diego Section Division IV title games, winning in 2001 and 2009 before moving over to Army Navy.