After weeks of speculation, rumors and innuendo, the saga surrounding the Poughkeepsie City School District’s search for a new varsity head football coach has ended.
The Pioneers have their man. Finally.
John Castellano, the longtime head football coach at Nyack, received the approval of Poughkeepsie’s Board of Education at Monday’s special meeting, assuming the reins of a program that’s been without a coach for months.
“At this point, I think it’s critical that we start catching up on some football,” Castellano, 58, told the Poughkeepsie Journal following Monday’s confirmation. “I don’t know how much football has been done, but certainly we need to get working on that.”
In his 23 years at Nyack, Castellano led the Indians to a pair of state titles and seven Section 1 championships before resigning prior to the 2011 season and spending the last two years coaching the defensive line at New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep.
The board’s four members unanimously approved Castellano’s appointment, paving the way for the Pioneers to begin preparation for the 2013 campaign.
“It’s been a long process, but I think we have the right team in place,” said Greg Charter, the board’s vice president whose son played for the Pioneers before graduating in 2012. “I look forward to the upcoming season, working with the great team that we built so short and quick. I’m just happy for the kids because it’s all about the kids.”
Poughkeepsie athletic director Matt Cameron was part of a committee that nominated Castellano to the board last week for consideration. He told the Journal Monday he was “thrilled” to have a coach in place, let alone one of Castellano’s ilk.
“This has been quite a process, but when you go through something like this and when you see what the potential is and the effort that went into this, it’s certainly worth it,” Cameron said. “I’m not even worried about what John does on the field because of his success. I’ve seen his teams and his performances, and I see what he gets out of kids. He’s going to take care of our kids every day. … It’s an outstanding opportunity for our kids and our community to get a guy like John.”
Castellano follows Ken Barger, Poughkeepsie’s head coach since 2005, who led the Pioneers to their first sectional crown in program history in 2011.
According to several students, district officials suspended Barger, a special-education teacher at Poughkeepsie High School, earlier this year after allegedly giving unauthorized accommodations to students during January’s state Regents exams, and he remains suspended. District representatives have repeatedly declined to give a specific reason for Barger’s suspension on the record.
“I’ve always had the utmost respect for the Poughkeepsie football program. I’ve probably lined up against them some seven or eight times in my 23 years at Nyack. Every time we played, it was a battle,” Castellano said. “Certainly, in these last few years, Kenny Barger did such a great job pointing these kids in the right direction and coaching them up, so to speak. They’re a great bunch of kids. You can tell they work hard — lining up against them, I can tell you that. (They’re) certainly talented young men, who I just want to continue the tradition that was started by Kenny and those before him.”
Last month, Mike Bianco, a longtime Barger assistant who’d been nominated to replace him, and several other Poughkeepsie assistants submitted their resignations to the board; those men have not spoken on the record about why they resigned.
Since then, conjecture about the fate of the program had run rampant.
In the interim, Charles Spencer Jr., a former Poughkeepsie High and University of Pittsburgh star who played two games with the Houston Texans before sustaining a leg injury that ended his NFL career, and former Poughkeepsie and Texas A&M standout Matt Featherston helped lead the Pioneers in organized team activities (OTAs). Both were approved as assistants on Castellano’s staff Monday.
“This is home,” Featherston told more than 100 supporters, including current Poughkeepsie players and members of the city’s Pop Warner Football program, on the Pioneers’ home turf at a reception to welcome the new coaches. “God willing, this is the coaching staff we’ll have here for a while.”
Added Spencer: “We need some model people, we need some people with character in the community behind us. We’re looking forward to that this year, and we want you guys to stand right next to us.”
Section 1 allows official preseason team workouts to commence Aug. 19, and Castellano said following this “crazy summer” of uncertainty within the program, he and his coaches are working to get their players ready for that date. To that end, he and his staff will conduct OTAs tonight, Wednesday, Thursday and four nights next week.
“We’re behind the eight ball, we know that,” the new head coach said, “but I think that’s a challenge this coaching staff and I and the players are willing to accept.”
Poughkeepsie hosts Somers in the season opener Sept. 6 at 6:45 p.m.
Addressing that aforementioned crowd Monday, Castellano said his team will be ready for the new season.
“On Sept. 6, on this field, Somers High School is in trouble.”