This week, the school’s new administration opted to go in another direction.
On Tuesday, Springstead’s new principal, former softball mentor Carmine Rufa, officially tapped Shawn Laferty – out of a pool of six final candidates – as the Eagles’ ninth head coach dating back to 1977.
Laferty, who registered a 60-6 (.909) slate the past four seasons as the Eagles’ JV coach, has been a pivotal cog in lifting Spring Hill’s ever-expanding Dixie Youth Baseball program to new heights.
Prior to this summer, Laferty compiled a 55-19 (.743) lifetime Dixie slate featuring four district titles, three state crowns and more combined Dixie World Series victories than 145 of the past 146 local coaches over the past 14 seasons.
On why Rufa chose Laferty as his first-ever prep coaching hire, “I was impressed with his knowledge of the game,” responded Rufa. “And his organization with his paperwork. For someone outside the system, that’s crucial. A lack of expertise in paperwork is the thing that kills administrators on our level.”
In 2013, Diven’s first-ever team defeated Citrus for the Class 6A, District 6 crown before navigating to the 6A-Region II final in Orange County – losing a controversial tilt at Orlando-Edgewater, 6-5.
After finishing 18-9, SHS stumbled this spring. There were no celebrations after the Spring Hill squad exited during the opening round of districts at home, finishing 11-14.
In a turbulent season, four players were dismissed from the squad.
The community lashed out with a petition drive to oust Diven after he fired Laferty following last spring’s baseball banquet. The local dissent reached a July Hernando County School Board meeting where four locals aired their displeasure.
Less than 24 hours after Rufa took office as Springstead’s new principal, two Eagle baseball coaching positions vacancies were posted online: a head coach and an assistant position.
On whether Laferty’s hire was a knee-jerk response to the latest unrest, “I don’t think so,” replied Rufa. “People applied for the job and we wanted to pick the best person. Right now, it’s about getting consistency and building that rapport that’s so necessary for any coach and their players.
“The kids have to be able to connect with their coach. Once they do, that’s when a program can move forward.”
“I called Diven and told him I wanted to open up the position to get the best person in,” recalled the 47-year-old Rufa. “Why Diven didn’t apply, I don’t know. You can ask him.”
Asked to respond to his ouster, Diven explained, “I’ve led this team to the furthest it’s ever been; I worked my fanny off for two years. I put up with a lot of garbage from the outside.
“I don’t think he (Rufa) handled it well,” said Diven. “I got a phone message on his decision to open it up. Looking back, I thought he fired me over the phone. I thought I was owed at least a conversation.”
Diven did meet briefly with Rufa.
“That lasted maybe three minutes,” recalled Diven. “He said he was reposting the position. Maybe I was too sensitive. I thought I had more coming than a phone call. He never asked me to apply.”
On what ultimately torpedoed his stint, “We weren’t that far off last year. We should have won 4-5 more games with the kids we had. The (old) administration knows what I did. I feel my time was cut short.
“We had a lot of discipline problems. I wanted to develop a different reputation than in the past. I thought I was on the right path.”
On Laferty’s hiring, “Shawn’s a good coach,” Diven said. “I wish him and Springstead all the luck in the world.”
SHS’ former veteran baseball mentor, Frank Vitale, saluted Rufa’s decision to hire Laferty. Late in the 2012 campaign, Vitale was initially suspended by the previous administration and eventually not retained as head coach.
“Over two years ago when I was suspended and not rehired, I thought Shawn should have been hired,” noted Vitale, who guided the Eagles for 8½ seasons and recently agreed to fill Nature Coast Technical’s head coaching vacancy. “When I recently talked to (SHS athletic director) Bob (Levija) I told him I thought Shawn is ready for this.
“He works very hard at his craft and he’s put in a lot of time outside of work on the game of baseball.”
Vitale believes the current Eagle administration selected the right person for the job.
“Regardless of what Diven did in that first year, that wasn’t based on what he did. He inherited those kids,” stated Vitale. “Last year, his true colors started coming out when he actually had to start coaching and you saw the end results.”
“No surprises,” Diven said in response to Vitale’s comments. “He’s a bitter man. He’s been bitter throughout the process. He lost his job and he’s been bitter ever since. The truth of the matter is he lost his job and I didn’t lose it for him.”
Spring Hill Dixie director Joe Abbadessa echoed Vitale’s sentiments on Laferty’s hiring.
“You see his team’s results at the Dixie level and then with Springstead’s JV,” said Abbadessa. “This is well-deserved. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Laferty, 47, is a 1984 Countryside High graduate who resides in Spring Hill with his wife Carmon and their three children: Blake, 18, Luke, 15, and Hailey, 12.
The former All-Pinellas County second baseman for the CHS Cougars serves as operations manager for Auto Nation in Clearwater. He has served in that capacity since 1994 and has been with the company since 1988.
On replacing Diven, “Jim did a good job while he was here. Deep down, he’s a good guy,” said Laferty. “I’m very thankful for Coach Levija and Carmine (Rufa) for giving me this opportunity. The kids know I’m a straightforward guy; I’m not a guy who will beat around the bush.”
Besides his 11 seasons with Dixie Baseball, he’s a regular patron at nearby Northcliffe Baptist Church.
“As a kid, I was raised on baseball,” traced Laferty. “I just eat and sleep playing ball. I’ve learned over the years to be more laid back as a coach. I’d consider myself a player’s coach. Still, we’re not going to tolerate some things and ultimately it’s on the kids to make good decisions. When you have good character kids, the wins will come.”
Springstead baseball coaches (1977-2014/38 Seasons)
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR HEAD COACH
1977 Lance Clemons
1978 Lance Clemons
1979 Lance Clemons
1980 Lance Clemons
1981 Lance Clemons
1982 Roley Kiker
1983 Chuck Moehle
1984 Chuck Moehle
1985 Chuck Moehle
1986 Chuck Moehle
1987 Chuck Moehle
1988 Chuck Moehle
1989 Chuck Moehle
1990 Chuck Moehle
1991 Chuck Moehle
1992 Chuck Moehle
1993 Chuck Moehle
1994 Chuck Moehle
1995 Chuck Moehle
1996 Tony Zefiretto
1997 Tony Zefiretto
1998 Tony Zefiretto
1999 Tracy Clark
2000 Tracy Clark
2001 Tracy Clark
2002 Tracy Clark
2003 Tracy Clark
2004 Frank Vitale
2005 Frank Vitale
2006 Frank Vitale
2007 Frank Vitale
2008 Frank Vitale
2009 Frank Vitale
2010 Frank Vitale
2011 Frank Vitale
2012 Frank Vitale
2012 George Bennett
2013 Jim Diven
2014 Jim Diven
By the numbers: Springstead’s Jim Diven
– Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR W L .PCT
2013* 18 9 .667
2014 11 14 .440
TOTALS 29 23 .558
* Denotes Class 6A, District 6 champion.