Just four days after the resignation of Max Smith, Dunedin made a swift move to retain continuity among its football program and coaching staff by promoting offensive assistant Denis Gillen.
The announcement was made Saturday afternoon by principal Reuben Hepburn during a news conference in the school’s auditorium that was attended by players and parents.
"The timing was critical because we're so close to the start of the season," Hepburn said. "This was the wise choice. Denis already is part of the faculty, he's been involved with the community and the football program for awhile. The kids know him. There really was no one else that came to mind."
The rapid decision came after Smith decided to leave the Falcons to become a graduate assistant at the University of Toledo. Smith coached Dunedin for two seasons and went 10-10, including a 6-4 record last season, the program’s first winning season since 2008.
Smith told the administrators to promote from within because there are just five weeks left until fall practice begins. He also hoped for a seamless transition to encourage players to stay.
Hepburn said he wanted to make a quick decision because he will be attending conferences the next two weeks.
"We wanted to speed up the process because we don't want kids floundering and thinking about leaving because of a lengthy coaching search," Hepburn said. "We have a lot of private school and public coaches who hover around here because of the talent we have at this school. And we want that talent to stay right here."
Gillen, 43, is a teacher at the school and is the Falcons’ fourth coach since 2009.
He coached in the youth leagues at Dunedin and Countryside from 1989-2000. Gillen left to become the offensive coordinator at Fort Pierce Central from 2001-04 and spent the '05 season as the offensive line coach at Stuart Martin County. He came back to the area and spent the 2006 season back in the youth leagues before becoming an offensive assistant at Dunedin the past three seasons.
"It was a shock to me that Max left, but I've been preparing for this opportunity for a long time," Gillen said. "There might be a couple of things that will change scheme-wise, but the staff will remain intact and the principles that Max instilled will remain the same."
Gillen inherits a team with some talent that includes senior tight end/linebacker Brenton Allen and incoming freshman Kane Taylor, a youth league star who projects as a tight end and linebacker.
"We have a bright future here, so there's not much to change," Gillen said. "I want to keep working on what we have, and I think we can be a winner."