Published: Aug. 22, 2019
It’s no secret that coaching, especially at the high school level, is a high-stress job that doesn’t always provide compensation to match the time that goes into it. This has been especially true in South Florida, where pay lags behind that of the other major football talent hotbeds around the country.
But even in a sport where coaching changes are common, the turnover in Palm Beach County this offseason is hard not to notice. Of the seven existing schools that have won a state title, five are heading into the 2019 season with new coaches.
Dwyer, Pahokee, Palm Beach Gardens, Glades Day and Jupiter Christian will all be under new leadership this fall. And none of those coaches are surprised to see so much change around the county.
“The hours that we put in is crazy,” Jupiter Christian coach Baz Alfred said. “So seeing turnover in Palm Beach County from private and public and these guys going to Georgia, going to Texas where they’re paying the head coach [$15,000-16,000], and then also their teaching salaries, I’m not surprised at all.”
There’s no one reason for all of the recent turnover. Some coaches left for jobs at other schools, while others retired or just gave up on coaching to find a new career. But despite the differing reasons, it’s not hard to nail down a motivation.
“There’s a difference in obviously the pay,” Dwyer coach McKinley Rolle said. “You see a lot more coaches kind of leaving either the profession in Florida or you see them going to Georgia or Alabama or Texas. It’s something that I think everyone’s kind of aware of and it’s kind of one of those things that it is what it is.”
But despite the reality of rampant coaching turnover in South Florida, the new coaches are all looking to make their mark on a group of historically talented schools in the midst of historically high turnover.
No new coach will have bigger shoes to fill than Rolle. He is taking the reins from longtime coach Jack Daniels, who led the team for more than two decades, elevated the program to powerhouse status and won two state titles (2009, ’13).
“Coach Daniels has established a tremendous program. He is a legend,” Rolle said. “And Coach Daniels to me personally, he’s been someone that’s always had his door open, is always a phone call away. Coach has been great through this whole process and he’s been someone that I can speak to about anything.”
Rolle, who previously coached at Wildwood and as linebackers coach for junior college power Garden City, will have to grapple with immediate expectations. Dwyer is coming off a campaign where the Panthers went 11-2 before falling to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 7A regional final. Rolle will be looking to live up to those expectations with a team that he feels lacks experience.
“We have a lot of young players, and when I mean young I don’t mean really grade-wise, I mean as far as just varsity experience-wise,” he said. “So it’s always a constant learning process. They’re trying to learn what we want from them and what we’re gonna demand from them on a consistent basis and they’re giving effort. But it’s a long process, we have a long way to go and it’s about the journey and I see some parts that can potentially be pretty good down the line.”
Despite coming off a down year, Pahokee will be looking for alum D.J. Boldin to help lead a comeback as the team’s new coach. Boldin, who was an offensive coordinator at Middle College High School in Tennessee, is more than ready to live up to those expectations.
“It’s no secret we have a very big senior class … They’re all collegiate Division I athletes, they all have scholarships, so there’s no secret to what I expect this season,” he said. “Just in the whole team itself, I’m really excited about this season.”
The Blue Devils, who have five state titles since 2003, are coming off a year where the team went just 6-7, well below expectations for a program with such an illustrious history. The dropoff could be partially attributed to the high level of competition, but Boldin, the younger brother of former NFL great Anquan Boldin, isn’t shying away from playing tough teams.
“The philosophy for me is I want to be great and I want my kids to be great and there’s no other way to be great besides playing great people,” he said. “And I truly believe the key to success for us this season is not only the kids, it’s on me and my coaching staff, and that’s through coaching, scheme and preparation.”
Palm Beach Gardens
The Gators, despite capturing a state title in 2005, haven’t had much success in recent years. They will look to alumnus Tyrone Higgins II to right the ship. Despite being new to the job, he feels the transition has gone well so far.
“In the beginning it was kind of hectic but now everything’s kind of panning out,” he said. “Just being able to be around such a good group of kids has made the transition so easy.”
Higgins II is still adjusting to the different work load that comes with being a head coach, but he is already aiming high for his new team.
“Goals of course is to first win districts,” he said. “And move on to the playoffs and eventually win states.”
New Gators coach Zach Threlkeld has certainly had his hands full recently. Before deciding to lead the football team, he had already been serving as the school’s athletic director for a year. And on top of all that, he has a 2-year-old at home.
“It is a lot to take on,” he said. “I like to think that being good at one makes me better at the others in terms of just the leadership and setting the example.”
Threlkeld has been working to improve on delegating as he balances two roles, but he has no interest in handing one off at some point in the future. He’s in both jobs for the long haul as he hopes to elevate Glades Day, which has won seven state titles, ranging from 1980 to 2010.
“We’re playing some very talented teams, probably will be more talented than us,” he said. “So we have to be able to have that competitive edge in terms of being very good at things we can control. Effort, being able to give great effort, are things that we’ve established as our identity.”
After winning state titles in 2007 and 2008, the Eagles are hoping that Alfred can lead them back to that level. Aflred, who was hired away from Olympic Heights, feels that he has hit the ground running in preparing his team for 2019.
“It’s a lot different coming from 7A public school where there’s 140 kids in a program to now coming to a private school that only, at the time that I took over, had 16 kids in the program,” he said. “But everything is on the up and up. I’m excited about it … We have 37 kids out now.”
Alfred is excited about the task of helping lead the team back to a higher level of success.
“I just want to continue rolling in that rich tradition that they already have,” he said “I just want to take it to the next level and get back to those state championship games.”