Orlando area high school football coach changes include father-son, youth surge

Garrett Kruczek had only one name in mind when considering an offensive coordinator to join him at The Master’s Academy in Oviedo, where he was named head football coach in late March.

Kruczek, 27, leads the Eagles into the start of spring practices Monday alongside former NFL quarterback and long-time coach Mike Kruczek.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to coach with my dad,” Garrett said by phone Thursday afternoon. “When the opportunity arose for this job, there was no question who I wanted to run the offense.”

Mike Kruczek, 70, spent the past 10 seasons as head coach at Trinity Prep. His pro and college coaching career dates to the early 1980s and includes 19 years in all at UCF after playing five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins.

Trinity Prep was expected to interview candidates for its opening this week.

“He’s a great mentor and senior advisor. We speak the same language when it comes to the offense,” said Garrett, a Lake Howell graduate. “In terms of putting skill players in positions to be successful, I don’t think there’s anybody else to go and get that’s better. He’s one of the great offensive minds in Florida.”

Garrett takes over for former UCF offensive lineman Bailey Granier, who stepped down to succeed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mike Alstott as head coach at Northside Christian in St. Petersburg.

“I felt I had more to offer to the game of football than just playing,” Garrett said. “I knew [coaching] is what I wanted to pursue.”

One of many young new head coaches entering the spring, Garrett moves to Master’s after serving as quarterbacks coach at Brevard College in North Carolina following a playing career that included stops at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Miss.), UCF and Eastern Kentucky.

Ongoing changes

Only 12 of the 67 football teams in the Orlando Sentinel coverage area have had one head coach in place since the 2016 season.

Those programs include public schools Boone, Dr. Phillips, Kissimmee Gateway, Jones, Lake Mary, Lake Minneola, Timber Creek and Winter Park, and private schools Bishop Moore, The First Academy, West Oaks and Orlando Christian Prep.

Since the start of 2021, there have been 62 coaching hires made at 43 schools throughout Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake and southwest Volusia counties.

Kissimmee Liberty and Cypress Creek have each made three changes during that span.

Liberty hired former Dr. Phillips record-setting running back Dee Hart, 30, in February. Hart, who played collegiately at Alabama and Colorado State and recently coached junior varsity at Frostproof High in Polk County, hopes to make an immediate difference with the Chargers.

“I like giving back to the community because I was brought up with a less fortunate background,” Hart said. “We didn’t have many role models, and if there were role models, they were the bad role models leading you down the wrong path. I’ve always wanted to be that person who can offer the younger generation a chance to take a different path.”

Former UCF and NFL wide receiver Doug Gabriel, also a DP grad, recently stepped down at Cypress Creek after leading the Bears to a 6-4 record in his only season. The school planned to hold interviews for the vacancy this week and hopes to “have a coach in place prior to the start of spring practice,” according to Orange County Public Schools.

The Florida High School Athletic Association permits member schools to take part in 20 practice sessions in the spring, which includes one exhibition game.

Most area schools open practices Monday. Jones, St. Cloud and Timber Creek take the field for the first time Thursday. Others, including Apopka, will wait until May 1.

Finding a fit

New Lake Nona coach David Aubrey became the third Dr. Phillips assistant in as many years to land a head coaching job in mid-March, joining Riki Smith at Windermere High and Luke Hutchinson at Mount Dora.

It was a long time coming for the Lake Nona resident, who spent the past seven seasons at DP after serving as Poinciana head coach in 2007 and working as defensive coordinator at Colonial and Liberty.

Aubrey was previously a Lake Nona assistant for two seasons and has remained connected to the community through youth sports.

“I’ve always been immersed in this community. It’s home for me,” he said. “There’s an overwhelming support system in place because of the relationships I’ve built over the years. So many people have reached out and so many have been willing to help.”

Aubrey was on DP’s 2017 state championship staff. He takes over for Jason Robinson, who left the Lions after one season to become a college offensive coordinator at Webber International.

Woody Cox, an assistant at Sanford Seminole when the ‘Noles went undefeated and won a state title in 2020, steps in for Donny Hodges at Colonial. Hodges, who announced in November his retirement from coaching after 20 years, will help oversee the Orange County Cure All-Star Game later this year.

Karl Calhoun Jr., a 2013 Seminole grad and assistant at the school the past two years, was promoted to replace Eric Lodge in early March. Lodge, one of several coaches who left for out-of-state jobs this offseason, is the new head coach at Berkeley High in Moncks Corner, S.C.

Mount Dora Christian Academy welcomed back Kolby Tackett after he spent the 2020 season at Oviedo and the past two years at Middle Tennessee Christian. Tackett, the MDCA coach from 2017-19, replaces Mike Kintz, who will work for former Seminole and Orlando University coach Don Stark as an assistant at North Paulding High in Dallas, Ga.

Aaron Sheppard and Jeff Smothers also head north after accepting new positions in February following stints in Orange and Volusia counties.

Sheppard, who led Ocoee to the state semifinals last fall, is now defensive coordinator at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga. Sheddrick “Buck” Gurley, a former Florida Gators defensive tackle and Lake Mary Prep head coach, was promoted to lead the Knights.

Smothers takes over as defensive coordinator at Toombs County in Lyons, Ga., after going 15-12 at Deltona the past three seasons. Matt Martin, a 2010 Deltona grad and recent DeLand assistant, moves in to lead the Wolves.

Karlos Odum, Justin Roberts and Gavin Jones received promotions at their respective schools.

Odum, an assistant the past three years at Evans, replaces former NFL player and Trojans alum Kenard Lang, who became the defensive line coach and run-game coordinator at North Carolina A&T in February.

Roberts, 31, steps in for Brian Kells at Orange City University after spending the past nine seasons as an assistant with the Titans. Kells went 55-46 in 10 seasons at University. Roberts, a former DeLand High quarterback, had worked as the offensive coordinator.

Jones becomes the third Tavares coach in as many years. He has coached wrestling and baseball and assisted with football during almost two decades at the school.

Umatilla hired a familiar face when it nabbed former three-sport standout Eric Samuels in January. Samuels, a former Vanderbilt and Canadian Football League player who coached the past six seasons as a defensive assistant at Wildwood, is a 2009 Umatilla graduate.

“It’s been a dream of mine to come back and pour the knowledge that I have into my community,” he said. “I can’t even put it into words. Umatilla is a special community and it’s going to take a hometown guy to come in and change things and get everything back to how it once was.”

Former UCF quarterback and Winter Park assistant coach Steven Moffett replaced Mark Oates at Leesburg in December. Oates, who was released from his position after six seasons, landed a head coaching job in his home state of North Carolina at Union High in Rose Hill.

Andrew Anderson was granted the only head coaching job he’s ever interviewed for when Oak Ridge hired him in January. A defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Elijah Williams at Oak Ridge and Jones the past 10 years, Anderson has already helped seven Pioneers players garner Division I interest.

Brad Lord is back on the sideline as a head coach after two years away from the game. He takes over at Groveland South Lake, which has gone 4-26 the past three seasons. Lord led Foundation Academy to an 86-55 record and nine playoff appearances — including five region finals and one state semifinal — from 2008-20.

Don Simon stepped down at Harmony early this week to become athletic director at Tohopekaliga. Defensive coordinator Nick Lippert, who has coached alongside Simon for nearly two decades, will serve as interim coach throughout the spring.

“It’s a good transition for [Lippert] to take over right where I left off. All the staff is staying in place and carrying on,” said Simon, who has made stops as a coach in Dade and Broward counties and North Carolina.

“I thought it was time for me to step away from coaching after 28 years,” he said. “It’s time to let the young guys take over.”

Coaching changes

Lake County

Leesburg: Steven Moffett (Mark Oates, 6 years)

Mount Dora Christian: Kolby Tackett (Mike Kintz, 3 years)

Groveland South Lake: Brad Lord (LaQuentin Taylor, 2 years)

Tavares: Gavin Jones (Tim Smith, 1 year)

Umatilla: Eric Samuels (Charlie Cerney, 4 years)

Orange County

Central Florida Christian: TBD (Jeremy Campbell, 6 years)

Colonial: Woody Cox (Donny Hodges, 6 years)

Cypress Creek: TBD (Doug Gabriel, 1 year)

Evans: Karlos Odum (Kenard Lang, 2 years)

Lake Nona: David Aubrey (Jason Robinson, 1 year)

Legacy Charter: Zach Fox (Ryan Locuson, 1 year)

Oak Ridge: Andrew Anderson (Fred Bush, interim)

Ocoee: Buck Gurley (Aaron Sheppard, 5 years)

Osceola County

Harmony: Nick Lippert, interim (Don Simon, 6 years)

Kissimmee Liberty: Dee Hart (Antony Smith, 1 year)

Seminole County

Sanford Seminole: Karl Calhoun Jr. (Eric Lodge, 3 years)

The Master’s Academy: Garrett Kruczek (Bailey Granier, 2 years)

Trinity Prep: TBD (Mike Kruczek, 10 years)

Southwest Volusia

Deltona: Matt Martin (Jeff Smothers, 3 years)

Deltona Trinity Christian: Bill Cosens (Allen Baldwin, 1 year)

Orange City University: Justin Roberts (Brian Kells, 10 years)

This article originally appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email J.C. Carnahan at jcarnahan@orlandosentinel.com.


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