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Search for AAHS coach looks flawed

June 14, 2009
The Altoona Mirror

Something doesn't seem right.

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed less than three weeks to conduct a search and name a new coach when they hired Mike Tomlin more than two years ago.

That seemed to work out fine.

The Altoona Area School District, on the other hand, has had six months to get its football program on its future track after Vince Nedimyer Sr. announced his retirement as athletic director on Dec. 15.

That set off a chain of events that still has Altoona without a head football coach today - two months before official practices begin and five days from when the state's focus will be on Altoona for the PSFCA East West All-Star Game.

When former football coach Phil Riccio was named on March 30 to succeed Nedimyer, the task of finding the next coach lacked urgency and seemed to expose flaws in the process.

This is how it is supposed to work: An athletic committee is formed to interview applicants, whereby the list is then narrowed to a few finalists. From there, the committee discusses the finalists, and a vote is taken. The entire committee backs the majority pick, and then that person is recommended to the school board.

In a perfect world, the school board trusts the process and the committee's decision, and it votes in the recommended applicant.

When that process breaks down, as it apparently has in this case, one begins to question whether or not politics are involved. It is apparent from last Monday's board meeting that the committee members are not all on the same page since they were not able to come up with a recommendation among the three finalists.

It leads to speculation on why.

By most accounts, Altoona has three solid finalists.

Tyrone assistant Tom Palfey, Juniata Valley coach Mike Smith and Bishop Carroll coach Craig Sponsky all have represented themselves well both on and off the field. From a personal standpoint, they've all been cooperative and professional with the Mirror - except for these last several weeks when they've become tight-lipped.

The longer this process goes, the harder it is on these three, their families and their current employers. It is also adding extra pressure on the eventual Altoona choice.

One way or another, Altoona will have a new coach soon - a second round of interviews is reportedly set for Monday with a possible selection to follow.

Here's hoping Altoona officials can check their egos at the door, not let outside influences affect them and let the process run its course.

Ultimately, they should think of the kids - especially the seniors - from not only Altoona but other schools in the area as well who are still waiting on who will be their head football coach in the fall.

Hopefully, their 2009 seasons haven't been jeopardized.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or

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