BRADENTON -- On the lookout for someone to lead its football team into the future, Manatee High School dipped into its past.
John Booth, who played quarterback four years and graduated from Manatee in 2000, was named head football coach Tuesday. The 31-year-old Booth beat out six finalists, including four Manatee assistants -- Chad Choate, Chris Conboy, Jim Phelan and Chuck Sandberg.
Jason Milgrom, offensive coordinator at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, was also considered along with longtime Alabama prep coach Bart Sessions.
In the end, Manatee chose Booth, who just wrapped his fifth season and sixth spring as Valrico Bloomingdale head coach, to replace Joe Kinnan, who is taking a medical leave of absence for the 2014-15 school year.
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"I told my wife the only program, the only school I would have considered leaving Bloomingdale for was Manatee," Booth said. "It's a good opportunity and not one that I wanted to pass up. We're just really excited."
Jason Montgomery, Manatee athletic director, said Booth wowed him during his interview.
"He came in here and nailed it," Montgomery said. "He understands the tradition we have here, he played for Joe and he has a good appreciation of our staff. He has all the tools."
Booth went 16-34 in five seasons at Bloomingdale but led the team to a 6-4 mark last season after going winless in 2009.
As a player, Booth earned All-America honors with MidAmerica Nazarene, a NAIA school in Kansas, before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and switching to wide receiver. Booth also played in NFL Europe, winning World Bowl XIII with the Amsterdam Admirals, and played in the Arena Football League.
Now he's set to tackle his greatest challenge -- following Kinnan, who won 290 games and five state titles with the Hurricanes.
"Kinnan is a legend and a hall of fame coach -- the field's named after him," Booth said. "My goal is not to come in and replace Joe Kinnan. I don't think that's fair to try to do that, and that's not fair to try to do to him and all that he's done. My goal is to continue the success that he's done, and continue the legacy that is Manatee."
Booth said he plans on meeting with the Manatee coaching staff this week. The only assistant he plans on bringing over is his brother, James Booth, who was offensive coordinator at Bloomingdale.
Kinnan handled that role at Manatee.
"I don't have any intentions of moving or losing staff," John Booth said. "I'm looking forward to sitting down with them and just talking about what we need, what we don't need. ...That's one of the unique things about Manatee -- the longevity of the staff -- and that's something to be appreciated. As the new guy coming in, I am going to lean on them heavily."
The staff knows Booth well. Not only did he play at Manatee, but Booth brought his team to Bradenton for 7-on-7 scrimmages every year he was at Bloomingdale.
Phelan, an assistant for 33 years, including 17 at Manatee, said he would like to remain defensive coordinator. He served as interim coach during the spring.
"I am resigned to the fact that I'm an assistant," said Phelan, 58. "John is a great guy. ... He will do a good job and has always been a hard worker. Everyone here enjoyed coaching John."
Manatee brought in an outside coach, Howie DeCristofaro, when Kinnan stepped down after the 2000 season. DeCristofaro was fired after four turbulent seasons, leading to Kinnan's return to the sideline in 2005.
Phelan believes this transition will go better.
"John is a good person," he said, "well-liked and well-known."
Conboy, who congratulated Booth on Tuesday, said he plans on talking with him about his future at Manatee.
"That'll be up to John," said Conboy, Manatee quarterbacks coach. "He's a good coach and, more importantly, a good person. I think he'll do a good job. He's always been a hard worker and an overachiever, and I'm sure he'll do that as a coach. I think he's a good choice."
Sandberg, the longest-tenured Manatee assistants, shared sentiments expressed by Conboy and Phelan. He said he hopes to stay onboard after speaking with Booth.
"I think he'll do a nice job and I'm going to support him," said Sandberg, who just wrapped his 28th season at Manatee. "It's really about the kids. As long as the kids are getting a positive experience, we'll move forward. I think it's going to be a good thing."
Though Kinnan's leave is for one season, Montgomery said Booth is not an interim hire.
"Sometimes, life happens, like it happened now," Montgomery said. "If we have an opening in a few years, and Joe is healthy enough to coach again. ... But I see John Booth being our coach for the next 20 or so years."
-- Photo courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times.