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Gannon assistant to coach Kiski Area football

| Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004

By Rob Amen

and Larry Seben

Staff writers

The Kiski Area School Board turned offensive Monday night, and, in the process, found its new football coach.

The board voted, 7-2, to hire Donald G. Holl Jr. away from Gannon University and succeed Dave Grimm, who retired as coach after this past season.

Holl, who graduated from the Naval Academy, has served as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator at Gannon the past six seasons. Prior to that, he served as head coach at Tunkhannock Area High School for four seasons, from 1995-98.

Holl will assume the position of dean of students, an administrative job the board created specifically for Holl on Monday night, when the 2005-06 school year begins.

He will be paid about $60,000 for the role that he described as an assistant principal and about $8,000 to coach football.

"One of my favorite sayings is coaching is about taking players to places that they can't take themselves," said Holl, who lives with his wife and five children in Erie. "My mark has been made on the offensive side of the ball. I think we'll be exciting and fun on offense."

Holl's offenses at Gannon averaged 35 points per game over the past four seasons while running a no-huddle, spread offense. He said he will employ a similar offense with the Cavaliers.

The board considered two other candidates for the job, both of whom teach in the district and served as assistant coaches in the football program -- Chris Heater, an assistant below the varsity level and assistant varsity wrestling coach, and Clay Kunselman, a varsity assistant.

Public reaction mixed

A number of local residents at Monday night's meeting voiced concerns prior to the vote.

A few supported Kunselman or Heater.

But a number of people took issue with the creation of a new administrative position at a time when the district has raised taxes for the building project at the high school.

Jim Johnson of Allegheny Township said the creation of the new position coupled with higher spending was sending a bad message.

"I know it may not be the case, but you are giving the impression that you have created this position just to hire a new coach," said Johnson. "The new dean's position will pay $59,500, plus benefits that will add another 10 or 12 thousand on top of that. Then you add the $7,800 for the coaching position, and you are talking about a lot of money at a time when taxes are being raised."

"Based on the figures provided by the business manager, we are spending $80,300 for this position and the coach at a time when we do not know what our budget will be next May," said Leyland.

Leyland said the board probably was going to be faced with raising taxes another three mills next year for the building project, and might have to raise another 2 to 2.5 mills to cover rising health care costs.

"This hiring adds the equivalent of another one-quarter mill," said Leyland.

But Superintendent John Meighan said the hiring was not a case of creating a position for an individual, but was the continuation of process that began when he was hired as superintendent two years earlier.

"At that time, I told the board I wanted to restructure the administration so that we could do something about turning around the instructional process," said Meighan.

Meighan said while the size of the high school campus had increased by 50 percent, the staff lost one assistant principal.

"We have never had the supervision needed at the high school, and this hiring is a position that would have been added within the next few months anyhow," said Meighan. "The timing is such that we are just moving that up in order to hire an exceptional candidate."

Board member Dr. Elaine Geris agreed with Meighan.

"This position is something that has been in the works for two years," said Geris.

Ferrara, who voted against hiring Holl as dean of students, said he did so because he really wanted him to be in a teaching position.

"I wanted him in a classroom and as coach," said Ferrera.

Dissenting voice

Leyland said in a telephone interview after the meeting that the board offered Holl, who taught social studies for four years while at Tunkhannock, a similar job in the district. That job would have paid about $52,000, or about $3,000 more than is suggested under the district's teacher salary scale for Holl's qualifications.

But Holl said that he was never formally offered a teaching job, that the only offer the board made to him involved the position of dean of students.

"I thought Clay or Chris equally deserved a shot to be the coach," Leyland said.

"There's so much animosity right now. There are a lot of people, a lot of parents, whoever you want to say, who thought we had so much talent the last three years prior to this, who thought we should have gone further in the playoffs, winning WPIAL championships, things like that."

Asked if he thought that his fellow board members put winning above all else in hiring Holl, Leyland said, "I'm not going to say that."

Then he added, "I think there's more than winning. It's what you learn. You grow as a young man playing football. I'll say this about Dave Grimm: He turned a football program that was in the cellar and made it competitive."

"I talked to Don (Sunday) night on the phone," Leyland said. "No matter who the coach is, I support the Kiski Area football program and the coach.

"My goal is to play competitive football and for these young men to learn something."

That's all Holl is hoping to do accomplish.

"Certainly, everybody's goal is to get to Heinz Field. There are factors at Kiski to do that," he said. "We're going to take what I feel is a pretty talented bunch ... and take them to the next level."

Rob Amen can be reached at ramen@tribweb.com . VND correspondent George Guido contributed to this report.

Additional Information:

How they voted

There were two votes taken to hire Don Holl, one as dean of students, the other as football coach.

Susan Hartford, Monika McKillop, Dr. Elaine Geris, Gary Haag, Joanne Retter and board president James Summerville voted in favor of both hirings.

Patrick Leyland and Benjamin Silvestri voted against hiring Holl as football coach.

Leyland, Silvestri and Ron Ferrara voted against hiring Holl as dean of students.

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