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Vero Beach High continues search for new head football coach

VERO BEACH – Vero Beach High School will interview no less than 10 candidates this weekend for the vacant position of head football coach.

They will all be interviewed at the start of the weekend, with the field being narrowed to three candidates after Saturday for a final Sunday interview.

Principal Eric Seymour and athletic director Tim Tharp will head up these weekend interviews.

“We’re hoping to have the (new head coach) on campus by the end of the month,” said Tharp. “The person we hire will be a combination of a lot of things. He will have the highest integrity, come from a strong background, and have been a part of a successful football program.”

Tharp feels ex-VBHS head coach Gary Coggin had a great relationship with the Vero Beach community as head coach, and he’ll be factoring in each candidate’s potential to continue that legacy.

“We have a great fan base and everyone in this town knows football,” said Tharp. “I think our next coach must be someone who understands that Vero is a unique place as a big football town, embraces that element, and hits the ground running.”

Tharp himself was a very successful head coach at Palm Beach Gardens, where he went 53-14 from 1998-2004 and won three district titles. In 2003 he guided the Gators to a 10-0 regular season record and was named Palm Beach Post Coach of the Year.

Seymour played football at and graduated from VBHS.

Five known candidates being interviewed this weekend include two VBHS graduates, Howie DeCristofaro and Josh Smerker. DeCristofaro is currently associate head coach and Smerker is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at 4A Pope High School in Woodstock, GA.

DeCristofaro’s head coaching record is 93-42, and is a former VBHS assistant under Billy Livings. He led St. Edward’s to a 12-1 record and their lone Class 1A state championship appearance in 1989.

The former Miami Hurricane has also been head coach at DeLand, Tampa Gaither, Bradenton Manatee, and New Smyrna Beach. He led DeLand to its first undefeated regular season in 65 years in 1995, and coached Gaither to an 11-2 record in 2001.

In two years as defensive coordinator at Pope, DeCristofaro’s defenses have given up just 15 points per game and the team made the playoffs for the first time in ten years in 2010 with a 7-3 record.

Smerker has been an offensive coordinator for nine years at Sebastian River, Gaither, Bradenton Manatee, New Smyrna Beach and Pope.

The former VBHS quarterback set records for most career passing TDs (34) and TD passes in a game (5). He went 23-3 with a state semi-final appearance as starting quarterback from 1992-1993. In his two years as offensive coordinator at Pope, Smerker’s teams have thrown for almost 2900 yards to go with 28 passing TDs running a spread offense.

St. Edward’s Head Football Coach Bill Motta coached with both DeCristofaro and Smerker at VBHS, and thinks very highly of them.

“I would certainly love to have both of them on my staff,” said Motta. “They have both dedicated a large majority of their lives as football coaches, and they realize that their sphere of influence is very great as a high school football coach.”

Motta, himself a fitness guru, felt DeCristofaro would bring a great strength and conditioning program to VBHS.

“I know Howie is a great defensive motivator and is very knowledgeable in the weight room,” said Motta. “Josh is the same way but on defense. I think they both do an outstanding job and they know the level of commitment that is required – and that is a big part of coaching. They are good men and good coaches.”

Cardinal Newman Assistant Coach Kevin Fleury, who was recently in consideration for the head coaching vacancy at Royal Palm, has a Vero Beach connection as well.

He joined Tharp’s staff in Palm Beach Gardens as linebackers coach in 1999, and moved up to defensive coordinator in 2001. He took over for Tharp in 2005 as head coach and won the 6A state title, going 13-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of coach Billy Livings and VBHS.

Fleury went 33-15 as head coach at Gardens, but was dismissed as head coach in 2008 after going 2-8 on the heels of a 6-4 season.

Walton High School Head Coach Lenny Jankowski is also a candidate with a familiar name in this area. The John Carroll graduate went 42-23 as head coach at John Carroll from 2000-2005. He led John Carroll to three district titles, two 11-win seasons, and a 2003 state semi-final appearance.

Jankowski is 30-22 in five seasons at Class 2B Walton High School,

St Thomas Aquinas Defensive Coordinator Rocco Casullo isn’t from the Vero Beach area, but he comes from one of the most successful high school programs in the country. His defense only gave up 97 points last season en route to a 15-0 record, a class 5A state title, and a No. 3 national ranking by USA Today.

Casullo’s father is a former NCAA and NFL assistant coach.

The VBHS position became available after Coggin was dismissed in November immediately after the Fighting Indians ended a 6-4 season. Coggin was 35-20 in five seasons as head coach.

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