When Central High starts back up after winter break, it will do so having settled its football coaching situation.
On Friday, athletic director Al Sorrentino announced the hiring of Chris Sands as the Bears’ newest headman.
“He definitely has a plan in place to resurrect the program and try to move it forward,” Sorrentino said. “He had a lot of energy. The kids today seemed pretty positive in meeting with him.
“We’re excited. He’s young, getting his first opportunity as a head coach and looking to hit the ground running.”
Sands, 26, served as associate head coach at Seminole High in Pinellas County this season while teaching at St. Petersburg-Gibbs.
The previous year he was the Gibbs offensive coordinator and briefly interim head coach while running the offseason program.
Prior to that he spent a season as offensive line coach at Tallahassee-Maclay School, and played along the offensive line at Florida A&M University before graduating in 2010.
“To be honest, I’m just really excited for the opportunity,” Sands said. “I think there’s a lot of potential in Central High School. That’s one of the reasons I applied for it.”
Sorrentino said he received 52 resumes for the position that opened when the school and former head coach Mike Einspahr mutually parted ways last month.
The Bears went 0-10 this past season, and are 5-45 going back to 2009. They haven’t had a winning season since 2007 and haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006.
Sorrentino noted that Sands was on staff at Maclay when the team went from 1-9 in 2010 to winning the first of two straight championships in the independent North Florida Football Conference in 2011.
The 6-foot-9 Sands was a four-year starter at offensive tackle at FAMU, having played prep ball at Tallahassee-Leon. Twice he was selected to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference All-Conference Team and was a two-year captain for the Rattlers.
During his brief coaching career, he has worked under similarly young head coaches, Kyler Hall at Maclay and Chris Miller at Seminole.
“I learned a ton from those guys,” Sands said. “They kind of mentored me throughout the process and I feel completely prepared to be successful. It’s all about competing and putting wins in the win column, and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
Miller heaped praise on his now former assistant.
“Chris is a great coach,” Miller said. “It’s kind of bittersweet for us. We’re certainly sad to lose him. But at the same time, we’re thrilled and excited for the opportunity he’ll have to go over there and try to get that program moving in the right direction.”
Miller noted that Sands coached the offensive line and special teams at Seminole, as well helping with game-planning and preparation. Plus, Miller added, Sands’ contacts from his FAMU days were helpful in getting players signed collegiately.
“He’s young, energetic, has a lot of organizational skills, and I think he’ll do a good job (at Central),” Miller said. “They’re lucky to have him and I’m sure he’ll prove they made the right decision.”
Sands said he was looking for a chance to leave Pinellas County, and heard about the Central job from his brother Pete, general manager at Hernando Oaks Golf and Country Club.
He survived the interview process, conducted by Sorrentino, Principal John Stratton and Assistant Principal Steve Crognale, who guided the Bears to five playoff berths from 1995-2001 and remains the team’s all-time leader in coaching victories.
This marks the second coaching hire in the county football ranks this month, after Bill Vonada took the Hernando post two weeks ago. Nature Coast’s job remains open.
Sands scoffed at the perception that any coach simply wouldn’t have the tools available to turn the Central program around.
“I think that’s ludicrous,” Sands said. “There’s no way a school with 1,200 kids cannot be successful. You look at teams like Springstead or Nature Coast, it’s the same kids going to those schools and they’re in the playoffs every year.
“Central has the same kids, from the same neighborhood and the same background. There’s no reason why we can’t do what other schools are doing.”
His immediate goal is to double the size of the roster, which stood at roughly 30 this year. Low numbers is an issue his predecessors have consistently been unable to solve, but he’ll hope to change that when he arrives on campus full-time by the end of January, filling a still-to-be-determined teaching position.
“When you’ve got a 5A program and there are only 30 kids on the roster, that’s a problem,” Sands said. “It’s a school that can be successful and will be successful with me at the helm.
“I’m going to be a coach kids want to play for. Being a younger guy, being the face of the program, kids will want to play for me and go out and compete.”
He firmly believes the talent does exist within Central’s hallways; it’s just a matter of getting it out on the field. In the meantime, he’s not about to temper expectations.
“I don’t really like the word ‘rebuild,’” Sands said. “This program isn’t completely wiped away. The stones are there. We need to put the stones in place and keep building.
“There’s no way I’m going to put a team out there that’s not going to compete and be ready to play every single week. The time is now. There’s no timetable for it. We’re going to be a physical team, one teams don’t want to play anymore.”