Nature Coast hopes it has found the man to bring solidarity and a clean image to a football program desperately in need of stability.
Oh, and the ability to win games is important, too.
A two-month search ended Friday afternoon when Nature Coast announced it had hired Mark Nash to be its next varsity football coach. Nash replaces Mark Lee, who was fired in January because he did not mesh with the program and has since been hired as Weeki Wachee’s first athletic director.
“I believe there will be some bumps in the road,” Nature Coast principal Toni-Ann Noyes said. “When it’s all said and done and students graduate from Nature Coast I will be here with my football coach and I have to feel comfortable with my decision.”
Nash, 44, was one of 61 applicants and among eight finalists, who included former Hernando coach Rodney Byrd and Gulf assistant Brian Wright.
The final decision came Friday afternoon following one final informal meeting with Nash, then Wright, the two finalists.
Noyes said an extensive background search revealed few, if any, negatives. In the end, it came down to educational philosophy.
“I believe the passion they both have for football is very visible,” Noyes said. “You can see that. As educators, education is paramount. When meeting with Mark his beliefs were in line with our beliefs and the direction Nature Coast is heading.
“As athletes, there always has to be a winner. By no means is Brian Wright a loser. They were both strong candidates.”
Nash is a relatively known commodity on the North Suncoast. He coached Hudson for six seasons, guiding the Cobras to three playoff berths.
And in terms of Hernando County ties, he lives within a short drive of Nature Coast.
Nash’s first task will be to mesh with the assistant coaching staff and next year’s prospective players. That was one area Lee was perceived to have failed in his only season. The Sharks went 7-4 and earned a playoff berth, but fell well short of expectations.
Nash has reached out to Sharks assistant Charles Liggett, who pulled his name from consideration early in the process.
“My first call, other than to my wife, I wanted to be to Charles Liggett,” Nash said. “I want him to know he is a huge part of this. I haven’t gotten the commitment he will stay, but I’m very hopeful.”
Nature Coast lost more than 20 seniors to graduation, including star running back Tevin Drake, who signed with Western Michigan. But the Sharks return plenty of depth including blue chip prospect Ja’Juan Story, who has offers from several major football programs, including Florida State and USF.
“What attracted me to Nature Coast specifically, I’ve always believed in the magnet program philosophy in school,” Nash said. “If kids want to be in a certain place they’re going to perform better inside and out. In terms of athletics, the success of the athletic program is a testament to the coaches.”
Nash, who was promoted at Hudson in 2004, turned a perennial losing program into a playoff contender. He inherited the team from Terry Voyles, who was 13-36 in the five previous seasons.
Nash quickly guided Hudson to the playoffs in 2005, the first Cobras’ playoff berth in 26 seasons. Hudson finished 10-3 and won the Class 3A, District 8 championship.
This will be Nash’s third head coaching job. He took Fort Pierce Central to the playoffs in 2001 and ’02. His coaching career began at St. Petersburg Catholic where he was an assistant from 1999 to 2000. Nash graduated from the University of South Florida in 1995 with a degree in finance.
“Were looking for stability,” Noyes said. “We want someone with excitement and energy for the job. He put a lot of effort and energy in every job he’s had before. He’s taken programs that have routinely lost and turned them around. We’re looking for someone to build on what we have, a stable figure and role model for our students. Mark Nash will do a great job.”
Nash is the second high-profile person to leave Hudson in recent weeks, following athletic director Linda McQuade, who was hired in the same capacity at Fivay, which opens in the fall.
“It was the right time to leave Hudson,” Nash said. “I love Hudson, I really do. There’s a lot of people that maybe couldn’t believe that. Hudson is a great place and I love it there. I can’t say enough things about Hudson.
“With that said, there’s always a time to move on.”