Here we go again.
In what has become an all too familiar refrain the past couple years, another high school football coach has resigned. The latest is Fort Pierce Central’s Brad Paulson, who stepped down Wednesday citing personal issues.
Paulson is the 12th head coach on the Treasure Coast to step down since the end of the 2015 season and the seventh at a St. Lucie County public school. Four schools (or 33 percent of the programs in the three-county area) have had their head coach resign each of the past three offseasons.
But several current and former area coaches say the issue is not as simple as people looking for the next job. Between the relatively small pay and constantly increasing time demands of coaching in Florida, it’s becoming more difficult to retain coaches.
“Schools that have any kind of stability are just getting lucky,” Vero Beach coach/athletic director Lenny Jankowski said. “I don’t know how else to state it. It needs to be revisited more frequently. There’s no apologizing for good coaching. Good coaching leads to a lot of things and stability goes hand in hand with that.
“It’s a proven fact athletics are the No. 1 drop-out prevention thing right now. You look at school morale and when you have a winning football program, it gives your school a boost. It’s a big part of education, both directly and indirectly. Sometimes it just gets passed over because so much is happening. And if people continue to do it, it’s one of those things when if no one is talking about it, it must be OK. And St. Lucie County, having grown up there and being a part of that school system, it chaps me to see that we’re not doing more. It needs to be revisited.”
In St. Lucie County, the head football coach is paid for 11 months at his regular salary, plus a $3,825 supplement. Assistant coaches are paid $1,785 for the fall and an additional $510 for spring practice.
In Indian River County, the head football coach is paid for 10 months at his regular salary, which is typical for teachers, and receives a $5,975 supplement. Assistant coaches are paid $3,000. In Martin County, the head football coach is paid for 10 months and receives a $5,901.50 supplement. The assistants receive between $2,486.40-$4,095.50.
“The worst part is the assistants,” said former Central coach Matt Helmrich, who left after the 2016 season to become the coach at Johns Creek High in Georgia. “I had guys that were looking for jobs and wanted to be in Florida, but to come down for so little? My coordinators were barely making $2,000. Up here, my lowest assistant last year made $5,000. Most of my assistants make $7,500. My coordinators made $11,000.
“It’s not a Fort Pierce Central or Westwood problem, it’s a county problem. You’re not going to keep good coaches. I wouldn’t have looked around even if it was a little more. You’re just not going to keep them. It hurts the schools, it hurts the kids. I feel terrible for those kids, but it’s tough when you’re making pennies. I can’t blame anyone for looking and it didn’t seem like there was any help coming.”
Football has heavy time demands for coaches. It’s the biggest sport in terms of student-athletes who play it and the amount of revenue it generates. It also is the only team sport that doesn’t have an AAU or club team students can play on during the offseason.
Coaches are expected to run offseason workouts, help promote their students to colleges (football is the lone sport that has a set recruiting period where college coaches are coming on campus), go to camps and play in 7-on-7s.
All of that is in addition to teaching.
“If you ask the average person, they probably think I coach for a living,” said South Fork coach Mike Lavelle, who was named the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2014-15. “They probably assume if I do teach its P.E., which isn’t true, or I get a bunch of perks, which isn’t true. I teach Algebra II and Algebra I like any other teacher here.”
Lavelle said during the fall season, coaching demands approximately 30 hours a week. Over the course of the year, he said his coaching responsibilities account for more than 750 hours.
“Take 750 and take my total stipend. I make less than minimum wage coaching football,” Lavelle said. “I can work at Taco Bell and make more than I can coaching football. Obviously, no one gets into coaching for the money. No one gets into teaching for the money. But when you look at the time you spend away from your family, it’s no wonder people leave. It’s a lot of hours away, and it’s hard to rationalize it.”
The issue is bigger than the Treasure Coast. With only a handful of exceptions, most head football coaches in Florida don’t make much more than they do in St. Lucie County.
Jankowski said when he coached in the Panhandle, he could pay his coaches 15 days at their daily rate for offseason workouts to help supplement their income. He can’t do that at Vero Beach, so coaches are expected to work for free in the offseason.
“It’s a Florida problem,” said former Central coach Josh Shaffer, who led the Cobras to three regional championship games during his five years as head coach. “For me it felt like in the offseason it was a one-man show. It’s a 12-month-a-year job. Your stipend pays you for two and that’s a lot of free work.
“There seems to be a lot of turnover in that region. I do miss it sometimes, but I don’t want to come back. I miss football, no question. I miss the kids. I miss being at the high school and the camaraderie, but I don’t miss the extra stuff.”