Prep baseball | Manatee hires former Saint Stephen's coach Rob Viera to replace Dwayne Strong

jlembo@bradenton.comNovember 15, 2013 

Amid all the turmoil swirling around Manatee's baseball team, one thing is certain: The program has a new coach.

Athletic director Joe Kinnan said Rob Viera will take over the job vacated by the resignation of Dwayne Strong. Manatee's coach since 2007, Strong resigned in October over allegations of financial improprieties in the program.

The allegations are being investigated by the Florida High School Athletic Association and were turned over to the Bradenton Police Dept. last month, though BPD Michael Radzilowski said last week that no victims or complainants had come forward.

Despite the controversy, Viera said he is excited to be coaching at the same school from which he graduated in 1991.

"This is my home," he said Thursday.

A Massachusetts native

who moved to Bradenton in 1986, Viera, 41, coached Manatee's junior varsity team 10 years ago and served as a varsity and JV assistant before getting his first head coaching job at Saint Stephen's in 2008. Viera went 40-27 in three seasons with the Falcons and led them to a district championship in his first year.

He said he plans on meeting with his new team sometime next week.

"Just getting the kids to buy in to me is going to be the first step," said Viera, who teaches critical thinking at Horizons Academy. "I know they had a lot of respect for Dwayne, and now all of a sudden here comes this new guy with new ideas. ... We can't touch a bat or a ball yet, but we're going to try to build some camaraderie heading into the spring."

An undrafted free agent, Viera signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and appeared in 20 games in 1996 and '97 with their Gulf Coast Rookie League team in Bradenton, a situation that also allowed him to work with the Hurricanes.

He spent the 1998 season with the Cincinnati Reds' organization, making it as a high as the team's Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga, and played independent ball in the Frontier and Atlantic Leagues.

"You hope that 90 percent of your players want to play in either the college or the pros, and you hope that helps with the buy-in factor," Viera said about using his professional experience as a coaching asset. "When I was with the Pirates, I was a role-playing catcher, you could say, and I never got past Rookie Ball. So I just sat and listened and just talked to coaches, and used the sponge effect of soaking everything in."

And now he hopes to use that to help his alma mater's baseball team to get moving in the right direction again.

"This is where I always wanted to coach," Viera said. "Very excited to be back at Manatee."

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