In the last four years there have been five new public school head football coaches in Manatee County and none have had a tougher job than John Warren at Southeast and Elijah Freeman at Bayshore.
Warren took over for a legend in Paul Maechtle at a time when enrollment at the school was decreasing, which significantly affected the talent level.
"The first thing you hear when you replace someone with the stature of coach Maechtle is 'why are you doing things differently?' You try to tell them it's because you are different, but it takes a while for them to buy into it," Warren said.
In his second year, Warren might see things getting brighter. After losing 12 of his first 13 games, the Seminoles have won two straight and could make it three against Cardinal Mooney on Friday night. Additionally, school enrollment has increased from about 1,300 when Maechtle resigned to about 1,550.
Meanwhile, Freeman took over a Bayshore program that never had a winning season under its previous coach and has struggled for nearly a decade in trying to get enough kids out for the team.
But sometimes the smallest thing can spark a turnaround and Freeman says a significant moment happened when the Bruins trailed Palmetto 7-0 at halftime two weeks ago.
The next game, with Ryan O'Neill making his first start at quarterback, the Bruins upset Booker 17-14 as A'Shawn Angel, who started his career at Lakewood Ranch, ran for 65 yards.
"I was not surprised we beat Booker," said Freeman, in his third year as head coach. "We had been improving every week. Our guys were very encouraged after that first half against Palmetto and Booker might have taken us lightly."
O'Neill is only a sophomore, which is promising, but the low turnout of players is tough to overcome.
"We have about 31 on our roster and have been dressing about 26 or 29 players because of injuries. We have only eight linemen total," Freeman said. "You walk around campus and see bodies that can contribute. I tried to get some of those kids, but I learned if the kids are not committed it's better not go after them."
Former Manatee High defensive line coach Steve Gulash has taken the same position with John I. Leonard in Ruskin.
"It's a long drive every day, but I am enjoying it," Gulash said. "We are 5-0 for the first time in the history of the program and I am glad to be working with kids again."
Gulash, who works as a behavioral tech for the Manatee County school district, said he received a call from the Leonard coach who wanted to use the 4-2-5 defense Gulash employed at Manatee with Jim Phelan, the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator under former Canes head coach Joe Kinnan.
Lakewood Ranch is using its bye week to heal up, said Mustangs second-year head coach Mic Koczersut, who has been struggling due in part due to injuries.
"The last three games we have been down at least seven starters. It's forced us to change a lot of guys around, but you play with what you've got," Koczersut said.
Coach K said he has settled his quarterback situation and his going with sophomore Justin Curtis because of his mobility.
With five years as the Saint Stephen's head coach Tom Creneti is one of the county's veterans and has more than paid his dues. He started 0-9 and has gone 3-7, 6-5 and now 5-0 in a testament to the value of patience.
"We have a core group of kids who have been here three years and done a lot of good things for us," Creneti said. "We helped create an environment where we could be successful when we put our resources behind the program and built a $5.5 million facility that included our football stadium."
Saint Stephen's plays in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, which is comprised of 29 independent schools.
The big start has led to questions of whether the football program will move to the FHSAA. Creneti, who is on the SSAC board, says they won't even look at that until the season is over.