Joe Guerrero led Bowsher (24-3) to City League and Division I district titles. He has a 309-270 record in 27 years, 75-37 in five seasons with the Rebels.
When his time at Clay ended in 2009, Joe Guerrero thought he had coached his last basketball game.
Thanks to a fortuitous phone call and a desire to stay in the game, Guerrero’s career has now been extended long enough to create a few memorable firsts.
For guiding the eighth-ranked Bowsher Rebels (24-3) to their first City League and Division I district championships and setting a school record for victories in a season, Guerrero is The Blade’s boys coach of the year.
No prior Rebels boys team had won more than 17 games in a season or had been ranked among the state’s top 10 teams. The CL championship came with an 81-65 win over Rogers, and the district title was secured in a 63-48 triumph against St. John’s Jesuit.
Bowsher’s season came to an end with a 66-50 loss to Mansfield Senior in a D-I regional semifinal.
Guerrero was also named district coach of the year and was the City League’s and Ohio’s D-I co-coach of the year.
The Rebels were led by a superb group of experienced seniors including Nate Allen, district player of the year and All-Ohio first team.
Other top seniors were Dajuan King and Cameron White, who joined Allen on the All-City first team, Aundre Kizer, Mark Washington, Jason Sandridge, and Jeff Jones.
Guerrero, 60, grew up in East Toledo and in 1971 graduated from Waite, where he played basketball and baseball. He is the younger brother of Gil Guerrero, who has coached Start to two CL boys titles.
Guerrero pitched at Ohio Northern University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1976. He spent four seasons (1976-79) pitching professionally in the Mexican League and closed his career with a minor league season (1979) in Alexandria, Va., in the Carolina League.
He joined the Toledo Public Schools teaching ranks and took his first coaching job as a varsity assistant under Stan Joplin at Start in 1980-81. He was Start’s junior varsity coach the following year, then took the JV job at Waite for three seasons before becoming the varsity coach at his alma mater in 1987.
With a 309-270 record in 27 seasons, Guerrero has evolved during his career.
“This is a true story,” he said. “I was coaching JV at Waite, and we had a timeout late in the game. We’re down by one, and we’ve got a guy going to shoot a free throw. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. Pretty soon the timeout’s over, and I didn’t say anything the whole time.
“I knew then that I’d better come up with something. I think it was good that we were lousy the first couple years because I realized you’ve got to find ways to compete. Otherwise, you’re just going to get blasted.”
Guerrero spent seven years with the Indians, a stint highlighted by the Craig Thames-led 1990-91 season, which included a No. 4 state ranking at midseason and the best boys record (19-4) in school history.
He took a teaching and head coaching job at Clay in 1994 and guided the Eagles for 15 seasons, with a Great Lakes League title in his first year there.
Then came Bowsher.
“After Clay, I remember thinking that I was done coaching,” Guerrero said. “I was like, ‘Now what?’ Then Dick Crowell, the former Bowsher coach, called me and said, ‘Hey, there’s an opening at Bowsher. I think you should think about it.’
“I did, I applied, and I got hired.”
In five seasons, Guerrero has guided the Rebels to a 75-37 record and back-to-back appearances in the City championship game.
“We just had to turn the mentality around,” Guerrero said. “The first year the guys didn’t really believe they could win. We had to get them to change that thinking. Then we got a couple good players and things have really evolved.”
Guerrero accepts limited credit for the performance of his 2013-14 team.
“No. 1, it was because our guys were best friends,” he said. “They’re all Bowsher kids from the same neighborhood. Some of these kids were playing ball together when they were 8 or 9 years old.
“They talked years ago about making a run in the state tournament when they were seniors. I never thought of it for me. It never was. It was always about our guys, and how much they worked, and how much they wanted it.”