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The search for a new head football coach at Central High School that commenced immediately after a dismal 2013 season is now over.
CHS principal Joey Vaughn announced the hire of Ryan Sulkowski Tuesday. He is the 29th coach in the football program’s history.
“We chose coach Sulkowski because we feel like he will bring a new element to our football program,” said Vaughn, who added that the list of final candidates were “all solid options.”
“He will bring a different style and philosophy as well as a passion and energy. Our expectation is to put a quality product on the field. We are going to give our student-athletes every opportunity to be successful.”
After posting the open position to state and national boards, Vaughn chose Sulkowski from a pool of nearly 100 applicants. Vaughn explained that the field was narrowed to 10 and telephone interviews narrowed the pool down to five who were selected for in-person interviews. Vaughn said a committee was formed that included local businessmen, athletic director Richard Skipper and school officials to conduct the search.
“Being able to go through the process of hiring a head football coach for this town was a tremendous responsibility,” explained Vaughn. “We went through the process with due diligence. We did our homework.
We checked references. I am confident that we are bringing a very good person into our community and our community will be proud of him. Our community will respond well to him.”
Sulkowski comes from Baker County Florida and by most all accounts brings an impressive resume with him. He led Baker County to 32 wins over the past four seasons, including top-25 finishes according to USA Today in each of his first three seasons at the school. In contrast, Coffee County would have to add up wins from each of the past 10 seasons to accumulate 31 wins. He said he is excited to be a part of the Coffee County program.
“My wife Heather, daughter Doxie, and I are excited to start a new chapter in our lives in Manchester. The vision that principal Joey Vaughn, athletic director Richard Skipper, and director of schools Dr. LaDonna McFall has for the Central football program is amazing,” Sulkowski told the Times in an email. “[Skipper] has such a passion for where he wants the program to be and no resource will be unused to make the football program at Coffee County successful. He and Mr. Vaughn were so valuable in selling their commitment to the football program at CC that it really was a no-brainer for my family. I cannot wait to meet the faculty and staff, community members and student-athletes at the high school and middle school levels to begin the process of building something our community can be proud of on and off the football field.”
Sulkowski was named Florida Athletic Coaches Association coach of the year after the 2011 season and was selected to
coach the 56th annual FACA North vs. South All Star game. He will be a coach in the nationally televised Army All-American game in 2015.
Sulkowski also managed improvement in the Baker County football team’s academics, taking the program from an overall 2.36 team GPA to a 2.73 team GPA in his first season.
“We value our time spent with the kids of Baker Count,” added Sulkowski. ” We put our focus on the kids in the community and loved every minute of it. We developed relationships with those young men and women that will last a lifetime. Sometimes life takes turns that are unexpected, but I can tell you that we are fully committed to the young men and women we have coached through the years and look forward to building those relationships with the kids and community of Coffee County.”
Before arriving on the high school scene Sulkowski spent time coaching in college – including a two-year stint at Clemson University under head coaches Tommy Bowden and Dabo Swinney. At Clemson Sulkowski worked with quarterbacks, tight ends and return specialists. He also spent three years at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia where he was the offensive coordinator and helped lead the Tigers to three prep school national championships.
Sulkowski spent the 2003 season as the recruiting coordinator and offensive line coach at Chowan University in North Carolina where he was a finalist for the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division III Assistant Coach of the Year Award. In 2002 Sulkowski was the run-game coordinator and offensive line coach at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. In 2001 Sulkowski spent the season at Lenoir Rhyne University in North Carolina where he worked with the tight ends and running backs. Sulkowski broke into coaching at his alma mater – Valdosta State University in Georgia.
After all of that moving, Vaughn said Sulkowski is looking to “put down roots.”
“[His wife’s] parents live in the outer banks of North Carolina and his family is in south Georgia and we are basically halfway,” explained Vaughn. “He has a four-year-old daughter and they are looking for a place to call home and raise a family. We have talked to him about Manchester and Coffee County. This is a great place to raise a family and he sees that.”
Will Muschamp (head coach University of Florida), Willie Martinez (assistant coach University of Tennessee) and Tommy Bowden (former head coach Clemson) all personally recommended Sulkowski to Vaughn.
“[Muschamp] said he had known Ryan for a long time and that he couldn’t say enough good things about his coaching ability and the relationship he builds with his kids,” said Vaughn. “Willie Martinez is currently recruiting a student-athlete who plays for coach Sulkowski and he talked about what a disciplined program he runs and how hard his players play for him.”
Vaughn also spoke with the athletic director at Baker County High School.
“[The athletic director] said that [Sulkowski] was the best coach they had ever had,” said Vaughn. “She said that he does a good job in the classroom and works hard at everything he does and it will be a tremendous loss for their school.”
According to the Florida Times-Union, Sulkowski was suspended for 10 days without pay after using a school credit card to purchase alcoholic beverages at a dinner in February of this year. According to the paper, Sulkowski said that he didn’t follow protocol and get prior authorization to use the school-issued card to make a purchase and he said that it didn’t help that it was alcohol put on the card.
Vaughn said he is aware of the incident and believes it was a mistake and won’t happen again.
“We fully investigated that 10-day suspension,” explained Vaughn. “I talked to the AD and the superintendent of schools and different people about his character and every person I talked to ensured me that this was an isolated incident, a bad choice and that he was very remorseful.
“I talked to coach Sulkowski personally about this and he answered all of my questions honestly. I believe he made a mistake and I believe he deserves a second chance and we are going to give it to him.”
Sulkowski replaces Lee Davis, who resigned in November after the Red Raiders completed their first winless season since 1999. Davis struggled to get anything going in Manchester, finishing just 5-26 at the helm of the Red Raider program.
Coffee County hasn’t posted a winning season since going 6-5 in 2007, which included a first-round playoff loss to Wilson Central. The Raiders have never won a TSSAA playoff game.
Sulkowski is expected to be in town Friday to meet with players and begin assembling a staff. He will meet with the community at an open event at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the CHS cafeteria. He will officially begin working with the Coffee County School System after Christmas break as supervisor of in-school detention.