The search for Altoona Area's High School next football coach starts down the home stretch today.
A group of four members of the AASD school board's athletic council and four administrators are set to interview about a half-dozen candidates - apparently including all three in-house applicants and a couple of names familiar to fans in the area - for the position vacated when Phil Riccio took over as the high school's athletic director in late March.
According to athletic council head Dick Lockard, the district received approximately 15 applications from outside the district. The deadline for outside applicants was May 15.
Neither Lockard nor school board president Dave Ellis would reveal or discuss specific applicants. However, several other sources have told the Mirror that Bishop Carroll coach Craig Sponsky and former Army assistant Dan Baranik, a 1980 Altoona grad, are among those being strongly considered.
Tom Palfey, Vince Nedimyer Jr. and John Kutz are believed to be the in-house prospects. Palfey is a former Mountain Lion assistant who currently works on John Franco's staff at Tyrone. Nedimyer, the son of the former Altoona football coach and athletic director, and Kutz, who also had head coaching stints at Hollidaysburg and Glendale, were assistants for Riccio.
Franco, also a teacher at Altoona, told the Mirror earlier this week he did not apply. Franco was the Mountain Lions' coach from the mid-1980s through early 1990s before going on to make Tyrone a state powerhouse in Class AA.
According to Ellis, the school board is hoping to have a recommendation by its June 8 meeting, because that is when it will begin filling teaching openings - including Riccio's former job in the attendance office. The athletic director's post carried with it an assistant principal's position.
However, because of the possibilities of calling candidates back for a second round of interviews and/or the eventual choice having to notify their current employer they are leaving, an actual vote might not come until the June 22 meeting.
"I don't know if the 8th would be realistic,'' Ellis said.
Both Baranik and Sponsky would bring attractive resumes to the table. Baranik had spent the last four years as the receivers coach at Army before the entire Black Knights' entire coaching staff was let go following the 2008 season. He's also coached at Maryland, Lehigh, Lock Haven, Shippensburg and Waynesburg.
Baranik's brother, Lee, is Altoona's cross country coach and has a son on the football team.
Reached via cell phone Wednesday night, Dan Baranik said he "would be interested'' in the opening but declined further comment.
Sponsky, the subject of heavy speculation, told the Mirror earlier this month he was not applying for the Altoona job. However, several sources have since informed the Mirror he is in the mix. Several messages left on Sponsky's answering machine Wednesday and Thursday were unreturned.
Sponsky has posted a 91-32 record in 10 years at Carroll, guiding the team to five District 6 Class A championships and a berth in the PIAA finals in 2003.
Along with Franco, another potential candidate that decided not to apply was Dan Wilkins. Wilkins came to the area as part of Ed Dalton's Altoona staff in the late 1990s before taking over the reins at Chestnut Ridge. He is currently an administrator at Seneca Valley.
"I enjoyed my time at Altoona,'' Wilkins said. "I was always treated with professionalism.''
Riccio had a 71-45 record in 10 years coaching the Mountain Lions.