The committee in charge of recommending a new head football coach at Hahnville High School will select from five finalists next week.
Hahnville High School Principal Ken Oertling said the committee will make their final recommendation prior to the St. Charles Parish School Board meeting on Feb. 19. The School Board will then decide whether to hire the coach recommended by the committee.
The process to fill the position began immediately after former head coach Lou Valdin stepped down in December due to health reasons. During Valdin’s 15-year tenure, he led the Tigers to 14 playoff appearances as a well as a state championship in 2003.
The competition to replace Valdin has been fierce. Out of 50 applicants, a committee made up of administrators at HHS whittled the candidates down to 14 selections who were interviewed over a two-day period in mid-January.
Oertling said the committee judged each applicant based on preset criteria.
“We have a rigid structure in place. We talked about the pros and cons of each one of the candidates. As far as getting what we were looking for in a head coach, we had criteria set up,” he said.
Following the interview process, five candidates made the final cut, including John Ehret assistant coach Derek LaMothe, Pearl River High School (Carriere, Miss.) head coach Eric Collins, HHS assistant coach John Lambert, East Jefferson High School head coach Dominic Saltaformaggio and St. Charles Catholic High School assistant coach Wayne Stein.
LaMothe just finished up his first season with John Ehret High School where he served as assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.
LaMothe has seven years of experience as a head coach, four at L.B. Landry and three at O.P Walker. He led O.P. Walker to the playoffs six times and made the semifinals once.
After a controversial merger by the Recovery School District between O.P. Walker and L.B. Landry to create Landry-Walker, LaMothe’s head coaching position was eliminated following the 2012 season and he joined the staff at John Ehret.
LaMothe said he feels blessed to be a finalist for the position. If chosen he plans to focus largely on the development of not just athletes, but student athletes.
“I am proud of myself to be able to improve young people and understand that football is just a vehicle that you use to become successful and get the opportunity to get some education,” he sad. “It is all based around academics. They understand that and buy into it.”
Eric Collins has been head coach of Pearl River High School in Carriere, Miss. for the past four years. In the last three seasons, he has taken his squad to two Class 5A state championship games.
Collins did not respond to requests for an interview.
Lambert was the offensive coordinator for HHS from 1999 until 2006 during which time the Tigers won a state championship and posted an 81-19 record.
In addition to serving as offensive coordinator, Lambert was also in charge of the strength and conditioning program, and he feels that was a big reason for the team’s success.
“I ran the weight room all season long during the school year and summer and I knew every single kid. It gives you a great picture of what a kid’s strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “We really knew what kids could do and I thought we did a good job in that period of time developing talent and getting kids better.”
Saltaformaggio is the highest profile candidate of the bunch. After seven years as head coach, he led the East Jefferson Warriors to a perfect 15-0 season last year and captured the 4A state title.
Saltaformaggio said the fan support, school facilities and academic ranking of St. Charles Public Schools, makes the HHS job one of the best in the entire south.
“I just think you have the people, administration and what you need to win a state championship,” he said.
Stein’s sole coaching job has been as defensive coordinator at St. Charles Catholic for the past 10 years. During that time the Comets have won 106 games and appeared in three state championships, including a championship victory in 2011.
Stein, who is a lifelong resident of the River Parishes, called the Hahnville job the best in the state and said he sees it as a chance to step into an already successful program and try to make it better.
Oertling said he believes in the process the school has undertaken to find a successful candidate to replace Valdin.“It’s been a very open and fair process and we look forward to choosing the right person of the job,” he said.
According to Oertling, the new head coach may have some leeway in hiring assistant coaches, but any assistants would first have to be hired as teachers.
“There is some flexibility, but it is a little bit different from a college to high school considering staffing wise you only have a certain number of spots available,” he said.
In any case, Oertling said the current assistant coaches at HHS will remain as teachers even if they are not asked to remain on the coaching staff under the new head coach.
“All of our coaches are teachers first, so they are still employed,” he said.
The next coach is set to take over the program on March 10 in time for spring training.