Sean Lynch: A new direction

One of six finalists will replace Tony Lewis at Merced College

03/07/2009 2:19 AM

03/07/2009 2:21 AM

There's an end in sight. The football coaching search that began with Tony Lewis' resignation on Jan. 9 could be wrapped up very soon. Of the 30-plus individuals who applied for the position, six have been chosen by a Merced College panel to be interviewed next Wednesday.

The committee will then make a recommendation of two to four applicants to Merced College President Dr. Benjamin T. Duran, who will make the final decision.

There's some hope that Duran's selection could be made by the end of the business week.

Where the Blue Devil football program goes from there remains up in the air.

Finding information on the six finalists has been about as fruitful as a weekend spent in the woods trying to document proof of Big Foot.

The campus' policy is to remain tight-lipped on personnel matters, and so far they've been true to their word.

The whole process has almost been worthwhile just to hear the usually loquacious MC athletic director Steve Cassady forced to state "No comment," time and again.

Unfortunately, the secretive nature of the long-winding process has left some involved with the team slightly soured.

Offensive coordinator Bob Casey was the only member of the current staff to apply for the head coaching position.

Casey wasn't one of the of the six finalists named, leaving the current staff somewhat in limbo.

"I could be wrong, but for whatever reason, it feels like the school is trying to wash its hands of Tony Lewis," defensive coordinator Sam Severo said.

"I'm honestly shocked that a guy like Bob didn't garner at least an interview."

What direction Merced College is hoping to go in won't be made clear until a head coach is named.

But there are some genuine concerns that the long hiring process has left MC behind the rest of the junior college community.

"The college has definitely dragged their feet with the hiring," Severo said. "Recruiting should have kicked into gear the second that the season ended.

"It's tough for guys to know what they're supposed to do, since they don't even know if the new coach is going to want them on their staff.

"And you know schools like Fresno and Modesto are coming into our area and saying, 'Why would you want to go to MC, you don't even know who the coach is.' "

Casey is choosing to take the high road with the situation, but did echo some of the current problems facing the program.

"I've talked with a few of the local guys, just trying to get a feel for what they're thinking," Casey said. "The problem is they all ask the same questions that I can't answer.

"What offense are you going to run? What defense?

"They're things we can't answer until there's a head coach to point the team in a direction."

The ball will hopefully get rolling by the end of next week. Cassady's stance from the beginning of the hiring process was that any coach MC brought in would be skilled enough to make up for the late start.

Whomever that coach should be, they'll be pleased to know that the entire program isn't stagnant.

The Blue Devils' returning sophomores have taken it upon themselves to follow through on the team's weight-lifting and conditioning programs.

"We're not worried," MC safety Jamicheal Turner said. "We're just trying to make sure we're ready to go for whoever the new coach is."

The players have also assumed the role of recruiters for the time being.

With former Merced star Dion Bland on the MC campus and prized recruits Bernard Bolden, Stephon Mathis, Nathan Mayfield and Kenny Cooper still available, MC's sophomore class is hoping to recapture some former glory.

"We want to have a Merced reunion," defensive tackle Leon Jackson said. "We're looking to make some big changes here and just want to move forward."

The first step towards that hopefully begins next week.

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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