Honoring water polo coach Francisco ‘Paco’ Gonzalez


Photo Provided by Mai Lam Bagnol

LOOKING FORWARD AND LEAVING A LEGACY: Coach ‘Paco’ Gonzalez and his son watch a water polo game at Tustin High School as their family cheers in support.

Megha Kishore, Staff Writer

A coach, role model and friend to many, Francisco Gonzalez, better known as “Coach Paco,” will be remembered for his passion for water polo and enthusiasm for sharing this love with his athletes. His warm spirit touched the lives of everybody he met, including his special education students and water polo team at Tustin High School. Not only was he a ray of light for his students and athletes, but also his wife and two young children. On Jan. 2, Gonzalez passed away at the age of 28.

Gonzalez worked closely with students and coaches across Irvine and Tustin through the North Irvine Water Polo Club, even helping take the 14U team to 1st place Platinum Division in the Junior Olympics. He was recently hired as a USA Water Polo Olympic Development Coach, and looked forward to educating more athletes. As a celebrated and inspirational coach, Gonzalez left an immense impact on his students, athletes, friends and colleagues. Those who knew him describe him as a tough, but caring and motivational coach.

“Something special about Paco’s personality was that when you were around him you always felt happy and you never had to hide your own personality around him. I admired his constant dedication to always get his players better and not holding them back, and I admired that he was always telling you the good things you have been doing during the game. He inspired me to be more confident in the water and not hold myself back.”
— junior Yoshi Elsefi

“Paco was a scary coach, but outside of water polo, he was always laughing and smiling. One second he’d be yelling at a kid like a military instructor and the next he’d be joking around with the same kid. He had a bright personality and loved to talk to everyone. Coaching alongside him was an absolute privilege and I learned so much from his determination and drive to win. One thing about this sport is that it has a very close- knit community. Everyone tends to know everyone, and it’s clear that he touched so many lives, even those he didn’t coach. His legacy will live on as someone who loved water polo so much but loved his players more.”
— Northwood alumni Sanjana Venkatesh

“He would always be coaching club after our Northwood practices and games. When I would return from away games, I would give him either a thumbs up or thumbs down based on the game results and he would always tease me on a thumbs down. What I appreciated though is that regardless of the result, he was always checking in on how the North Irvine players were doing. He didn’t care about what high school the players went to, but always cared that they were happy, improving and being taken care of at their respective high schools.”
— Northwood head water polo coach Kyle Kim-E

To support Gonzalez’s wife and two young children, their GoFundMe page is taking donations at gofund.me/bc0b93c4 or scan the QR code to access: