PALM HARBOR — The atmosphere felt familiar the first day of practice. Palm Harbor University football players reconvened after an offseason of workouts to go through the usual assortment of drills.
The biggest change came from who was in charge.
Reggie Crume, a relative unknown, was leading the Hurricanes for the first time. His hiring three months ago drew quizzical looks from a county that views outsiders more like in-laws than members of an embraced coaching fraternity.
After all, of the eight new football coaches hired in the offseason, seven were former coaches or assistants in the county. Crume, who grew up in St. Louis, was the only one who played or coached elsewhere.
"There will be some eyes on me and some attention early on because some people don't know me from Adam," Crume said. "But for me, this was a great opportunity to pursue my passion for helping kids grow on the field and in the classroom."
Crume was a defensive back at Washington University from 2001-02. He went on to coach at the youth and high school levels, and was offensive coordinator at Webster High in St. Louis the past three seasons.
He said he wanted to pursue head coaching opportunities in the bay area in part because his parents were moving here.
"There were a lot of small pieces that came into play that made this a good fit," Crume said. "My family was willing to establish roots down here and my job was mobile enough that I was able to transfer down here and work it into coaching."
Before applying, Crume met with former Largo High coach Rick Rodriguez to get an overview of the football landscape.
"Reggie talked to me about what coaching was like down here, what guys to look for in building a staff and what offensive and defensive systems teams ran," Rodriguez said.
The institutional knowledge helped Crume during the interview process. He applied at several schools and was also one of the leading candidates at St. Petersburg Catholic.
After a monthlong search, PHU hired Crume in February. He replaced Matt LePain, who left in January to coach at Dunedin. In three seasons at PHU, LePain led the program to its only two playoff appearances and never had a losing record.
The transition could have been tough considering LePain's track record and Crume's lack of head coaching experience. Although he has spent years as an assistant elsewhere, there is a huge difference between keeping the deck neat and in place, and running the ship.
"I inherited a group of players that were well-coached," Crume said. "That's a testament to the job the previous coaching staff did. They all worked very hard at putting together a great team. I'm just trying to continue to steer this in the right direction."
Continuity was difficult because most of the previous staff decided to go with LePain at Dunedin. Besides hiring assistants, Crume also had to search for a new home for his wife and 1-year-old daughter. This past week, he flew back to St. Louis twice because of family obligations.
"It's been tough getting everything established," Crume said. "But it's starting to come together. As far as the coaching staff, it was tough because there were not a lot of teaching jobs in the building. But I wanted to take the time to find the right guys for the vision that I had."
Most of the players are new, too. Quarterback Tyler Kaminski, who set several school records the past two seasons, is graduating. So are most of the offensive linemen.
But there still is talent. The biggest addition was former East Lake quarterback Brandon Swift, who transferred in January. Crume said there have only been slight tweaks to the system, such as running the spread offense more.
Instead of looking for cracks in the armor, the players are willing to respond to the new regime.
"The atmosphere has been outstanding," Swift said. "Workouts and practices have been intense. Coach has been energetic and he gets on us when it's needed. The attitude has been great.
"We're ready to put PHU on the map."