At this time last year, Rafael Puente Jr. was three weeks away from beginning the fateful playoff run that would conclude with Lobos lifting the Ascenso MX championship and taking them to the top flight of Mexican football for the first time in the club’s history.
Fast forward to last Monday, and Puente was officially let go from the team after bad results throughout the first 13 matches in the Clausura.
Profundamente agradecido por la oportunidad. Cumplí mi sueño, lo entregué todo y crecí como persona y DT. Ahora a prepararme aún más para lo que venga. @LobosBuapMX los llevaré siempre en el corazón.— Rafael Puente (@rafaelpuente) April 3, 2018
Yes, the pressure was on for Lobos after making only nine points so far and relegation looming over them. Yes, Puente did not have the best team in the Clausura. Should he have been let go?
Lobos BUAP had never maintained consistency in the Ascenso MX and potentially having Puente as manager brought some speculation among the directors of the club, given he was a novice coach, but he was ultimately given the job. The actor turned sporting director turned television analyst got his first shot at a coaching job he had been craving for years now, and Puente soon starting making waves by the start of his first full season, the Clausura 2017.
That tournament will be etched in the memory of every Lobos fan or Puebla resident for decades to come. Two trophies in six months, the Ascenco MX Clausura championship and the Promotional championship was enough to catapult a largely forgotten Lobos squad and their unseasoned coach into the limelight of Mexican football for the first time ever.
Now, in their first season in the Primera, it was basically a staple of Mexican football for the newly promoted team to struggle to get the hang of things early on. All too often does the new team look to be on its way back to the Ascenso MX in as little as six months.
Not this time.
Puente brought in Liga MX veterans such as Maza Rodriguez, Carlos Adrian Morales, Juan Carlos Medina, and some young and exciting foreign talent like former Tigres youth player Julian Quinones and the Peruvian duo of Luis Advincula and Pedro Aquino.
Even without a stellar roster, Lobos were the revelation of the tournament, finishing with 23 valuable points in their first season. They were just two spots away from a Liguilla berth. Puente was determined to stay in the first division. He had this to say after winning the Ascenso:
Unfortunately, the holes in the squad started to show in the Clausura, and by Week 13 Lobos were dead last in the league with only nine points to their name. That’s when the news broke. Puente was dismissed from his position via an official statement from the club.
Ya es oficial. Rafael Puente ya no es técnico de Lobos BUAP pic.twitter.com/phBvbnS4yw— Ricardo Hernández E. (@DeporPueblaRHE) April 3, 2018
Lobos BUAP panicked.
While in a tight relegation race with Veracruz, the Tiburones Rojos’ two-game win streak didn’t help. Veracruz was winning. Lobos was losing. That was enough for the front office to pull the plug on the Puente project.
It seemed premature. It seemed exaggerated. It seemed as if they were getting rid of a manager that not only made them win but changed the entire morale and philosophy of the team. Puente chose to approach and manage his players differently than his contemporaries, and as a result gave a squad that should have never won a title, two of them and got them to debut in the Liga MX as a force to be reckoned with.
He was unanimously loved by his players, who were not happy with Puente’s firing and held their own meeting with directors in hopes of getting them to change their mind, according to Fox Sports and Record reporter Ruben Rodriguez.
In the end, it wasn’t nearly Puente’s fault for the team’s poor form. It was the lack of resources. You have to hand it to the young coach, though. Being a first-time manager can intimidate anyone. Not very many can pick up a tactic board for the first time and go on to do the great things Puente did in Puebla. His first ever coaching run has been inspiring and impressive to say the least, and I’m sure it has grabbed the attention of a few teams.
With that said, there are just three matchdays left on the Clausura 2018 calendar and survival hopes are dwindling for Lobos. This story could very well end with both parties in opposite situations: Lobos back in the second division, and their old manager accepting a new, better coaching job in the first.