SEOUL – Rain or Shine governor Atty. Mert Mondragon, slight and quiet and with a quick smile, doesn’t flinch when the question is thrown at him Friday morning, two days after the PBA Board of Governors flew in for its annual planning session.
Is there life after coach Yeng Guiao? he is asked straightaway.
“Of course, there is,” Mondragon rifles right back. “There’s coach Caloy Garcia, after all, and he’s been trained and taught well by Coach Yeng.”
A good student, maybe he is. But can Garcia, who has assumed the reins whenever Guiao got tossed for incurring double Ts in moments of outburst over officiating, approximate his mentor’s breadth?
Subtly, Mondragon tilts his head to the side in thought.
“Well, maybe Coach Caloy has to improve a little on the way he handles the players,” he says.
Handles the players?
“He has been known to be more soft than Coach Yeng, maybe a little too friendly with the players. Palabiro e,” Mondragon says. “And I don’t subscribe to that. I believe he has to draw the line somewhere, instill discipline.”
The sound of a man in charge is unmistakable.
Confined for years to the background by the sheer strength of Guiao’s character and persona – apparently with the silent acquiescence of team owners Terry Que and Raymond Yu – Mondragon, 73, with the company for decades as the corporate lawyer of Que’s father, has been told by the bosses to take a more active role in managing the Elasto Painters this time.
“We used to leave everything to Coach Yeng, but now I have to be more involved,” he says. “I plan to sit down with Coach Caloy and the coaching staff pag balik sa Manila and discuss some things.”
Would that discussion delve on coaching matters, like insisting that Garcia follow Guiao’s tried-and-tested formula for winning?
“Maybe, dahil subok na yon,” says Mondragon. “But I also would like to see him inject some of his own philosophies.”
Guiao’s departure, Mondragon says, saddened them terribly but in no way left them bitter.
“We would have preferred to have him back, and for a while we thought he’d stay,” says Mondragon. “But we are grateful for all that he has done for the team and happy he’d be able to pursue his political concerns.
Mondragon says Guiao’s agreement with NLEX “went beyond basketball,” making it clear that “we’re not about to hold on to him and deny him that. We were sad but at the same time happy for him.”
Since it was Yu who was entrusted with the negotiations, coach and team governor didn’t have a chance to meet after going separate ways – until during the PBA Rookie Draft at Robinson’s Place in Ermita a couple of Sundays ago.
“Nag-yakap kami and I told him, ‘pag nagkaharap tayo, dahan-dahan lang ha; huwag mo kaming masyadong tambakan,’” Mondragon says, laughing.
No farewell promises were apparently made. But people who know Guiao say the former Pampanga congressman is someone who knows how to look back without being told.
So life goes on for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. Even without the man who lived life with them five years ago.