Matt Kitchie, football coach at Bradenton St. Stephen's Episcopal the past three seasons, has been hired as the third coach in Land O'Lakes history.
Principal Ric Mellin, who initially received 61 applications, announced Monday he had hired Kitchie to replace John Benedetto, who vacated the job after 32 seasons in April upon learning his teaching contract would not be extended for a 39th year.
"I'm extremely excited to be a part of such a tradition-rich program," said Kitchie, a 31-year-old married father of two boys. "It is an opportunity that I just could not pass up, and I'm just excited. I inherit a program that is very talent-laden. The opportunity to do well is right there in front of me."
A backup quarterback at Bradenton Southeast in the early 1990s, Kitchie played behind eventual FSU and NFL receiver Peter Warrick for a Seminoles program that won state titles in 1993 (Class 4A) and '94 (5A).
After a playing career at Newberry (S.C.) College, he spent a few years on the Southeast staff and a year and a half as a graduate assistant at Eastern Kentucky University. In 2006, he was hired to start the program at St. Stephen's, a small private school that played an independent schedule. Both his varsity teams finished 5-5.
At Land O'Lakes, he said he hopes to ultimately employ a spread-type offense. Defensively, he prefers four-man fronts.
"In my mind, Coach Kitchie was the complete package," Mellin said. "Not only do I feel he has a strong background with the X's and O's of football, but he's also very committed to his family, his faith and the academic excellence for students here."
The immediate repercussions of Kitchie's hiring are uncertain.
Three of Benedetto's longest-tenured assistants had publicly supported fellow assistant and LOL alumnus Tom Carter for the job. Kitchie said he already has met the assistants and described them as "very receptive and very polite," but added they requested time to think about whether they'll remain on board.
Carter and longtime defensive coordinator Al Claggett ran the team this past spring. Carter didn't immediately respond to a phone message Monday.
"Obviously if they choose to stay on the Land O'Lakes staff we're going to welcome them to stay and build on the tradition that's been established," Mellin said. "I hope that the student-athletes aren't swayed by the decision of a coach, but are willing to go on the field with what we've got in the fall."
One guy who appears excited about the hire is junior quarterback Stevie Weatherford, who spoke to Kitchie by phone Monday.
"Hopefully Coach Carter stays around, but I've talked to the new coach a little bit and I'm kind of happy because he's a passing guy," said Weatherford, who totaled nearly 2,000 passing yards his first two varsity seasons.
Kitchie, who will teach physical education at Land O'Lakes, inherits a program that has reached the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons and replaces a coach who won 196 games.
"It's been a difficult (hiring) process because of the strong sense of community and the tradition that Coach Benedetto has established," Mellin said. "It's not an easy process. … It goes back to one thing and one question: What's best for our kids? That's why I hired Coach Kitchie."