NEWPORT BEACH — Bob Torribio is the head coach of the Newport Harbor High boys' basketball team again. He has been in this position before at his alma mater, stepping in for longtime coach Larry Hirst twice in the past three seasons.
In the previous times, Hirst left the program for a season three years ago to spend more time with his family, and then last season to take care of himself after collapsing because of dehydration during a game.
Each time, Torribio, an assistant, always knew Hirst would return as the coach, and he did.
This time around, Torribio doesn't have a firm answer as to whether Hirst will lead the Sailors again.
Before Newport Harbor played its Sunset League home opener on Wednesday, Hirst stepped down as coach for the remainder of the season because of personal reasons, said Michael Vossen, the school's principal.
Hirst's departure in his 16th season in charge of the Sailors came as a surprise to Torribio. No one at the school wanted to talk about why Hirst decided to walk away before the Sailors played their second league game.
The result against Marina was the same as the previous nine games for Newport Harbor. The losing continued for the Sailors, who fell, 55-42.
"Tough circumstances," said Torribio, who has been involved as a coach at Newport Harbor for 10 seasons. "We got a lot of good kids in that locker room. We just got to keep going.
"Tough one tonight. We got to find a way to score more than 42 points. That's been our biggest problem."
The toughest part to junior Brian Robbs was learning Hirst was gone. He said it took the first quarter for it to sink in that Hirst wasn't guiding the Sailors (5-12, 0-2 in league) anymore.
The coaching move appeared to affect the Sailors' play. Marina (9-9, 1-1) led, 18-6, after eight minutes.
"He's our head coach and he was just basically … like our leader. It's tough," Robbs said. "The thing I'm going to miss about him is just basically his presence in our gym."
Robbs said he would welcome Hirst, 50, back as the coach.
The same cannot be said for some players on the team. A source familiar with the situation said three players planned to quit the team if there wasn't a coaching change made.
Players grew frustrated with Hirst's old-school coaching style and attitude, the constant losing, and for not scheduling the Battle of the Bay rivalry game against Corona del Mar for the second straight season, said the source.
The source said parents met with Newport Harbor school officials on Tuesday to force Hirst out. One day later, Vossen said Hirst decided to take a leave of absence.
Vossen said he could not comment about why Hirst left, but he did not rule out the possibility that Hirst could return to his coaching post. Hirst did not return a phone message left by the Daily Pilot.
Matt Myszynski, a former player of Hirst, said it seems unlikely Hirst will be back. He said he texted Hirst after finding out that he was no longer the coach.
"He's obviously sad, but he's professional about it," said Myszynski, who played for Hirst as a senior in 2009-10. "He just said [in the text], 'Sorry it had to end this way.'
"He was probably one of the more genuine guys I know. He shaped not just my high school experience, but a lot of players' high school experience."
With the life lessons Hirst taught his players, he showed the Sailors how to be successful on the court. The Sailors had reached the postseason for 12 straight years under Hirst before he stepped away three years ago.
Lately, Newport Harbor has struggled. The Sailors have only one victory to show in their past 12 league contests dating back to last season. Newport Harbor is on track to miss the postseason for the third time in the last four seasons.
Making a push for the playoffs now lies on Torribio, his staff and the players.
"I know myself. I know the staff here at Newport Harbor. As long as the kids are into it, we're going to keep doing our job," said Torribio, who was unaware of any issues players had with Hirst. "He's been here for 16 … years, you can never make everybody happy. He's Coach Hirst. He's the winningest coach in Newport Harbor High School history."
Now, it's up to Torribio to get the Sailors back to their winning ways. It has been a month since their last victory.
Marina 55, Newport Harbor 42
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Marina 18 – 11 – 13 – 13 — 55
Newport 6 – 10 – 15 – 11 — 42
M – James 19, Hayes 11, Hodge 9, Adnams 4, Livingston 4, Winks 3, Funai 3, Calkin 2.
3-pt. goals – Hayes 1, Hodge 1, Funai 1.
Fouled out – None.
NH – Aqueveque 11, Sargeant 10, Beauchamp 7, Rakestraw 4, Wade 3, Rettig 3, Jensen 2, Robbs 2.
3-pt. goals – Beauchamp 1.