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After two schools chose to go out of town to fill their football head coach openings, Riverview opted to bring Mike Thornton back home.
Thornton, 32, who graduated from East Bay in 1998 and later coached the Indians’ quarterbacks, running backs and offensive line for seven years under his father, Brian Thornton, has been named the Sharks’ head coach, athletic director Kevin Massena said Friday. He has spent the past three seasons as Fort Myers Cypress Lake coach.
“The Riverview job has always intrigued me,” Thornton said. “It’s a school that broke off of East Bay, and I was picky and wanted to stay in that Ruskin/Apollo Beach/Riverview area where I spent my childhood. The thing that pushed it over the limit was the ability to put together a quality staff with a lot of people that I’ve worked with before.”
Thornton wouldn’t say if his father would be a part of his staff, saying only that it would be a mix of some people already in the building along with some “experienced veterans.” Offensively, Thornton is steeped in the option and ran a triple-option, Georgia Tech style offense at Cypress Lake. While his offense at Riverview will be option-based, Thornton said he’d like to be able to throw the ball as well and pointed to Durant’s Nick Fabrizio as an example of the type of signal caller he’d like to have under center.
“I’m not against throwing,” Thornton said. “I’m against throwing poorly. If you can get a good athlete that can handle himself in the huddle, run the ball and add a play-action pass dimension, then the offense is tough to stop.”
The other finalist for the job was Niel Loebig, the offensive coordinator from Napes Lely. Loebig, the offensive coordinator at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh before coming to Lely before last season, also applied at Blake and Chamberlain. Thornton’s local ties gave him the edge.
“He had a lot of local connections,” Massena said of Thornton, who will join the staff as a PE teacher in the fall. “His ability to build a staff will be better than that of the other candidates, and he has three years' head coaching experience.”
After graduating from East Bay, Thornton attended the University of Florida and was a student assistant in 1998 under Carl Franks, the Gators’ running backs coach at the time. At Riverview, he replaces Bruce Gifford, who resigned Sept. 26 for health reasons after three seasons at the helm. The Sharks last made the playoffs in 2005.
“Riverview has fallen on some hard times, you saw a bit of a decline when it lost part of its student body to Spoto (in 2006),” Thornton said. “Because of the turnover and loss of talent, there’s been some adversity. But it’s a first-class community, they’ve had success in other sports, and with the administration’s support, football should be able to bounce back and be successful.”