Commentary | Jim Phelan is right choice to take over Manatee High football program

June 22, 2014 

BRADENTON

There is no need to launch a massive search.

The best person to replace the legendary Joe Kinnan as Manatee High's head football coach is already on campus.

Put all the factors together, and Jim Phelan makes the most sense for the Hurricanes.

Manatee has the most experienced and deepest coaching staff in the area. Those coaches will respond to Phelan and work with him. They respect him.

Former Manatee quarterback great and current University of South Florida head football coach Willie Taggart likes the idea. He was leading the Canes to two state finals when Phelan was a defensive assistant coach.

"Coach Phelan understands Manatee and the Hurricane Way," Taggart said. "He understands the kids and is a great mentor; football wise he knows football. If they gave him

the opportunity, I think he would do a great job. He has what you want especially for Manatee."

If school officials go outside the current staff, "Buyer Beware" signs could popping up all around Hawkins Stadium.

The first time Kinnan stepped down for health reasons (2001), the school did a long exhausting search and came up with Howie DeCristofaro, who turned the football program into a soap opera.

High school is not like the NFL or college. A new coach can't bring in his own staff. So, respect from the staff already in place is essential, and DeCristofaro failed to get that.

He was often his own worst enemy and tried to diminish the importance of the Manatee-Southeast rivalry when it was a rivalry.

If you walked the sidelines during DeCristofero's reign, you could hear assistant coaches complaining about his tactics, indifferent to the collateral damage of their actions. This was an undeclared war between head coach and his staff.

But this is not about DeCristofaro. He is just an example of what can go wrong when you bring in an outsider.

Talk to football people around Manatee and Sarasota counties, and they will inevitably tell you Phelan is the best coach who has never been a head football coach.

He has been the defensive coordinator during the Canes state title runs since Kinnan's return to coaching in 2005.

Phelan is considered an Xs and O's genius and a man of integrity.

At Manatee, he has been a model coach. He doesn't ruffle anyone's feathers and is dedicated to the players.

"The last time they picked a coach, it was bad. And I just hope they don't pick anybody," Taggart added. "I look at coach Kinnan the same way I look at coach Jack Harbaugh (at Western Kentucky). They changed my life and influenced the way I am today, and they are winners. I feel blessed to have those guys in my life. That's the kind of person you want."

Phelan has no ego. He didn't want the label interim when he ran the program during the spring out of respect to Kinnan.

He never talks about himself. For him it's always about the players and how more than a few overcame enormous obstacles in their personal life to achieve success.

He swallowed his pride a few years back when he became a stay-at-home dad because times were tough and his wife earned significantly more money.

He worked as a coordinator for Southeast legend Paul Maechtle and former Bayshore head coach Ray Woodie, now an assistant USF.

Next season will be Phelan's 17th at Manatee, and he has coached for 33 years.

The best man is already walking sidelines.

There is no need to look elsewhere.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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