Vero Beach High narrows field to 4 for head football post

VERO BEACH — Vero Beach High School has narrowed its list of potential head football coach candidates to four over the weekend.

Those in contention for the top post include Walton Head Coach Lenny Jankowski, Milton High School Head Coach Bobby Johns, Associate Head Coach Howie DeCristofaro, and Pope Offensive Coordinator Josh Smerker. Each candidate participated in a second interview at the school on Sunday.

Three of the four candidates have ties to the Vero Beach area and have experience coaching at non-local programs.

Two of them, DeCristofaro and Smerker, graduated, played, and served as assistant coaches at VBHS.  Jankowski graduated, played, and was head coach at John Carroll (2000-2005).

Vero Beach resident Patrick Grall played for Jankowski his first year as head coach at John Carroll in 2000.

“Coach Jankowski was a great X’s and O’s guy, and had a great offensive mind,” said Grall.  “He was a very dedicated coach and was always watching game film.  Only the limitations of his players at John Carroll held Jankowski back–he got everything he could out of our team.”

Jankowski has a 72-45 career record as a head coach.  At John Carroll he went 42-23, led John Carroll to a 2003 state semi-final appearance.

Johns owns a 100-52 record over 13 seasons, but went just 2-8 in his first year at Milton in 2010.

He led Blountstown to a state final appearance and a semi-final appearance in the early 2000s, and Baker County to a three-year record of 28-6 after inheriting a 0-10 program in 2006.

Johns is also a state championship winning weightlifting coach.

Former Blountstown Principal Keith Summers gave credit to Johns for increasing the scope of the football and weightlifting teams.

“He brought enthusiasm to our program that had been lacking for years,” he said.

Former UCF center Billy Dayton, a first-team all-state selection as a senior at VBHS in 1993, points to DeCristofaro as one of the most influential coaches he ever had.

“Howie really built us up into football players,” said Dayton, who is now a personal trainer in Vero Beach.  “He really showed me all about proper weight lifting technique.  I still use a lot of the stuff he showed me today.”

DeCristofaro has a career 93-42 head coaching record.  He led St. Edward’s to a 12-1 season and their only state final appearance, and has been head coach at football powers like DeLand and Bradenton Manatee.

Former VBHS Head Coach Billy Livings hired Smerker to help coach his quarterbacks fresh out of college in 1998.

“Coach (Bear) Bryant once said, ‘When you find a winner, you better put him a quarterback’,” said Livings.  “Well, Smerker was a winner.   When Josh was my quarterback (1992 and 1993) I felt like I had another coach on the field.”

Smerker has no prior head coaching experience, but has been an offensive coordinator for nine years and was DeCristofaro’s offensive coordinator for six of those years.  Smerker’s offenses have thrown for more yards (almost 2,900) and touchdowns (28) over the last two years.

Vero Beach  threw for  2,599 yards and 28 touchdowns over the past five years under former head coach Gary Coggin.

Vero Beach High School Principal Eric Seymour is expected to hire the new head coach sometime this month.

 *An earlier version of this article named three candidates. It has since been corrected to include the fourth.

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