The Altoona Area School District wrapped up a time-consuming search for a new football coach Monday night by hiring someone intent on hitting the ground running.
That person is Tom Palfey.
"We're holding a meeting in Room A-211 [today] at 12:30. Anyone in 10th through 12th grades interested in playing football should be there. I want that room packed,'' Palfey said. "Our first offseason workout is in a week.''
Mirror file photo
Tom Palfey was an Altoona Area High School assistant football coach for more than 10 seasons.
By an 8-1 vote, the AASD school board voted in a special meeting to stay in house and approve its 38-year-old physical education teacher and 14-year assistant to become the Mountain Lions' 20th head coach, ending a search that began when Phil Riccio vacated the post to become Altoona's athletic director in late March. Juniata Valley coach Mike Smith and Bishop Carroll coach Craig Sponsky were the other finalists.
"It's been my dream since 1992 when I joined John Franco's staff as a student-teacher,'' Palfey said. "When you've worked with the people I've worked under - my high school coach [at Wilkes-Barre Hanover] Al Kopacz, John Franco, Ed Dalton and Phil Riccio - you learn a lot. That's more than 400 wins right there.
"It would have been devastating [if I didn't get the job]. But I waited 17 years. I felt I could wait two more weeks. This 'Don't Quit' poem I have around the house that my mom gave to me keeps popping into my head.''
Name: Tom Palfey
Position: Altoona football coach
High school: Hanover (District 2), Class of 1988
College: Penn State, Class of 1992
Previous experience: Assistant coach, Altoona, 1992-2005; assistant coach, Tyrone, 2006-2008
Family: Wife: Amy, married in 1993. Children: Tyler, 14; Alexis, 12; Alyssa, 12; Trevor, 9
Palfey said he was both surprised and relieved to be the choice, which apparently was not decided until the board held a second round of interviews with the finalists and discussed the matter in executive session Monday.
The public session of the board meeting lasted less than 15 minutes.
"[Palfey] had an excellent interview,'' board president Dave Ellis said. "In the second part of his presentation, I thought he did an excellent job. That probably put him above the other two. It was his overall football philosophy, how he interacts with kids, what positive things he wants to do with the program.''
One of Palfey's biggest strengths is perceived to be his rapport with the students and his popularity in the community. Palfey often helps organize the student section at Altoona sporting events. He also serves as a track and field assistant coach.
"I feel that the students, the teachers, the parents all love this guy, and they trust their kids with him. There was a high recommendation from an area businessman, and I've been approached by people everywhere I went that felt Palfey was a hometown boy and he was good with kids,'' said Dick Lockard, the board vice president and head of the athletic council. "One important thing to me is that Tom and his family live in Altoona.''
Jim Walstrom cast the lone dissenting vote.
"I like Tom. He's a great guy. But it's our job to put the best person in place,'' Walstrom said. "Now he's got my full support, and I hope he proves me wrong.
"We have a process in place to make recommendations for these openings. I'm not happy with the seriousness that was given in this case.''
The board had hoped to have a candidate to recommend at its regular June 8 board meeting but couldn't agree on a name to submit for a vote.
Although he'd said previously he felt a coach needed to be hired quickly as fairness to other schools in the event Altoona hired an outside candidate, Ellis did not like the notion that the board took longer than necessary.
"We weren't intentionally dragging our feet. There were issues we felt needed addressed, as responsible members of this board,'' Ellis said. "All the t's were crossed and the i's were dotted.''
Palfey was an assistant at Altoona from 1992 until 2005, when he rejoined Franco as one of his assistants at Tyrone. There's been some speculation as to how Palfey, with no previous head coaching experience, would make the adjustment from being a well-liked assistant to sometimes needing to take a tougher stance as the head coach. Palfey didn't think that would be an issue.
"We just lost 10-0 in four innings in little league earlier this evening,'' Palfey said, "and we're practicing now.''
Palfey plans to meet with Riccio's assistants in the next few days before making decisions on his staff. He said he will be handling the offensive coordinator chores, which he did before heading to Tyrone.
"We will control the pace of the game,'' Palfey said. "We're going back to smash-mouth football, because that's what we have.
"Since I first stepped foot in Mansion Park the first time, I've wanted to do this. I'm willing to put in the time. I think I'm ready.''