By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Filling the sizable shoes of a coaching icon, Dean Haskins has taken over the Montgomery High School football program following Jason Franci’s retirement.
Haskins, the school’s athletic director, wants to return Montgomery to a winning program with accountability as his watchword.
“I’m excited. My main focus is to change the culture of the program,” he said.
“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do here. I think the process will be good for them.”
Not long ago, Montgomery was a Bay Area football power, with three North Coast Section championships. But the Vikings have struggled in recent years.
After a lengthy selection process, Montgomery and Santa Rosa city school district officials went with Haskins. In Haskins’ favor are his knowledge of Montgomery athletics — he was a multisport athlete at the school — and his experience leading the baseball program the past decade. The fact that he has never coached high school football was not a concern, Montgomery principal Laurie Fong said.
“We were looking for an outstanding individual who has experience in high school coaching and is a role model for kids,” she said.
“I’m always looking for the best person to work with kids.”
Some 10 candidates applied, but most sought both a coaching and a teaching post at Montgomery, which was not available, according to a person familiar with the hiring process.
The position became open when Franci stepped down following 33 years of leading Montgomery football.
With the football coaching job vacant and offseason workouts beginning in January, Haskins stepped in to coordinate weightlifting and conditioning programs.
More than 40 players are participating in offseason workouts. Many other students have talked to Haskins about joining the football program.
Spring practice is set for May, just before school ends.
“It looks real good,” Haskins said. “We’re moving forward to create some stability in the program.”
With no experience coaching high school football, Haskins places a premium on hiring a strong staff. He said he will lean on assistants to a great extent.
“I’m going to surround myself with good football people,” he said. “You have to trust your coaches.”
Players ultimately will make the Montgomery football program successful again, Haskins said.
To that end, Haskins is tracking attendance and attitude beginning with the offseason workouts. “We’re making sure they’re accountable,” he said. “Player camaraderie has been an issue in the past. I want them to get back to a program they’re proud of.”
As a Montgomery graduate (class of 1988) and longtime teacher at the east Santa Rosa campus, Haskins, 42, knows the school’s culture and the value of a winning football program.
“My No. 1 goal is for the kids in this program (to) get it turned in the right direction,” he said.
Having previously replaced a coaching great should help smooth the transition for Haskins. That he is a teacher on campus helps. “He’s got big shoes to fill. But he’s been through this,” Fong said.
A physical education teacher at Montgomery since 1997, Haskins was a varsity baseball assistant when longtime head coach Russ Peterich stepped down in 2004.
To understand Peterich’s legacy, consider that the Montgomery boys basketball tournament is named in his honor.
“It can be very difficult for someone from the outside to fill those shoes,” Haskins said. “I think I can provide some good structure and accountability.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 at firstname.lastname@example.org.