Now that Lakeside High School has a new principal, the school's search for a new football coach and athletic director is shifting into high gear.
Greenbrier Middle School principal Jeff Carney was named last week to replace Victor Lee, who resigned as Lakeside principal in mid-February. Lee's move came shortly after Lakeside football coach and athletic director Ed Koester tendered his resignation.
"As Lakeside's new principal, Mr. Carney knows that's (hiring a football coach and athletic director) a top priority," said Tommy Price, Columbia County School Superintendent. "Spring practice is right around the corner and this is imminent."
Along with hiring to fill the positions vacated by Koester, Carney's task will be to stabilize the Lakeside athletic program's shaky situation.
Lee hired Koester last April to replace retiring Steve Crislip, but Lee and Koester soon were caught in an undertow of indiscretion, and subsequently swept away by a tide of ill will.
Koester was credited with starting the first freshman team program in Columbia County, and he also arranged the first group meeting of athletic directors from the county's public schools.
Despite those positives, Lakeside athletic boosters who wanted to see an internal candidate become football coach and AD were on Koester's case from day one.
Then things got worse for the former Cherokee High School coach.
The scrutiny intensified last October when it was discovered that Lee had withheld information about Koester breaking rules as coach of the Arlington Heights (Texas) High School football team in 1997.
Other Koester critics allege too much money was spent on the Lakeside football team, which some say created a budgetary shortfall for other sports.
When the Panthers missed the state playoffs in football last season for the first time since 1998, the pressure became unbearable, and Koester eventually decided to depart.
Carney intends to smooth the stormy seas.
"I understand there has been some friction. The goal is to get everyone on the same page," he said. "That's why the AD is key - to set the tone, move forward and do what's in the best interest of Lakeside High School."
The football coach and athletic director positions have been advertised for the past two weeks - former Georgia Tech and short-lived Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary need not apply.
"We're going to check backgrounds to the Nth degree," Price said. "Certainly, Mr. Carney and I are both aware of the controversy surrounding the Lakeside athletic program. We're going to hire the best person we can, period."
Carney says the deadline for the job posting is March 13. He plans to study the letters of interest and resumes, then call in top candidates for interviews on March 14 and 15. A decision is expected by the week of March 18th.
"I want to pick someone who works in the best interest of Lakeside High School," Carney said. "We want a person who is dedicated to all sports, not just football. It's important to hire someone capable of having a quality overall program."
Influential Lakeside insiders played a part in pushing Lee and Koester out the door, but the Panther power brokers won't be part of the process in choosing a new football coach and athletic director.
"I do think that the tension that grew out of the last coaching situation suggests this is the time for a principal to act individually and make his own choice," Price said.
When Koester was originally hired, Lee and a search committee whittled the applicants down to four finalists, then made a joint decision to hire Koester.
Carney, however, isn't seeking any outside advice.
"I'm going to make the decision on this," he said. "A committee was done the last time, and I don't see where it helped that much."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.