ST. PETERSBURG — Last month, Donnie Abraham stood on the visiting football sideline at Gibbs High as an assistant for East Lake.
The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive back knew Gibbs had an opening for head coach. Still, he was hesitant about going after it. He had applied for three high school head coaching positions in Hillsborough County and three more in Pinellas County in the spring, but he was turned down each time.
But Abraham had learned the value of patience from his mentor, Tony Dungy, so he went through the interview process. And this time, he got the job.
Gibbs ended its three-month search Wednesday, naming Abraham to take over the program.
"I really found out how tough the process is to be a head coach," Abraham said. "I really didn't think I was going to get the opportunity to be one this year. I thought I was going to have to try again next year. I'm excited to get this chance with a great program."
Abraham, 35, played with the Buccaneers from 1996-2001 and the New York Jets from 2002-04. He finished his career with 38 interceptions and was a Pro Bowl selection in 2000. For the past four seasons, he has worked primarily with defensive backs at East Lake.
"I really liked the credentials Donnie had," Gibbs principal Kevin Gordon said. "He played for Tony Dungy, and he is quiet but assertive. I think Donnie will command respect among the players at school."
Abraham replaces Yusuf Shakir, who left in March to become coach at Tallahassee Lincoln.
Gibbs' football program has been in limbo ever since. Shakir was 11-9 in two years with the Gladiators, including a playoff appearance in 2007.
Dr. Antelia Campbell, the former principal, did not hire a permanent coach, instead relying on youth league coaches during the spring. Tony Jones was interim coach for May practices and the spring game. The job opening was not posted on the Florida High School Athletic Association Web site until May.
That did not sit well with players, some of whom declined to participate in the spring.
"I sat this spring because of personal reasons, but part of it was what was going on with the football program," said Josh Rembert, Gibbs' starting quarterback. "There wasn't any discipline or structure with the coaches who were here."
Twenty-five people applied for the job, and eight finalists were interviewed last week. Gordon, hired as principal three weeks ago, did the interviews, along with eight others. Gordon said the decision came down to Abraham and Fort Walton Beach assistant coach Dale More.
"Donnie was impressive in the interview," Gordon said. "He has a real knowledge of the game and a passion for teaching kids football."
Abraham, owner of two Zaxby's restaurant franchises, will not be a teacher at Gibbs but plans to be on campus as much as possible.
"I want to be visible," Abraham said. "I've got a lot of work ahead of me. I have to get a coaching staff in place and put in what our philosophy and system will be. And I have to meet with the players and parents to let them know what my expectations are going to be with the program."
As for coaching styles, do not expect Abraham to motivate with a finger in the chest or a rant in the ear. He gets his point across in a whisper-quiet way, much like Dungy.
"Donnie is very mellow, but he knows how to get players to do the right things," said East Lake coach Bob Hudson. "I think Donnie is a lot like Dungy in that way, but I don't think Donnie necessarily adopted that from Dungy. I think Donnie has always been that way."
One thing you can expect from Abraham is a wide-open offense.
"I've been around enough conservative offenses in my day," Abraham said. "That's not me. We're going to attack on both sides of the ball."
Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected]