The search is over.
After months of interviews and waiting, the Ridgewood Rams finally have a new football coach.
Mike Looney, an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Okeechobee High, has been named the successor to long-time Rams coach John Castelamare, who stepped down in late November.
Looney's appointment is contingent on approval from the school board and area superintendent, a step considered a mere formality. His first day is expected to be April 7. Spring practice will start on May 1.
"If all goes well, Mike's our new man," said Ridgewood principal Wendell Krinn. "What we like about Mike is his enthusiasm and eagerness. His background is as a defensive coordinator, but what impressed us most was the fact that his head coach (Cary McKee) said that Mike was an even better head coach. That says a lot."
The search for a new coach began in earnest this January and Krinn said the school interviewed 24 applicants.
"I am relieved at this point," Krinn said. "We had a number of very qualified applicants, but we thought that Mike was the best fit for us."
"I guess I'm the man," Looney said. "One of the things I wanted to do was get up to the north of the state and a friend up there gave Ridgewood a good recommendation.
"When I got up there and met Mr. Krinn and (Gary) Anders I was very impressed with the whole situation and the school."
Looney, 38, brings to Ridgewood nine years of coaching experience. A graduate of Northeast High in Oakland Park, he went on to a four-year career as a linebacker at Cornell College. He then joined the Marines and served five years. In 1987, Looney was named defensive coordinator at Bozeman High in Montana. After one year, he became a graduate assistant at Mankato State University, where he stayed for two years. In 1990, he was named assistant coach/defensive coordinator at Drake University, and in 1992 took a coaching position at Clarinda Academy in Iowa.
Looney, who will teach physical education at Ridgewood, has been at Okeechobee since 1993. The Brahmans were 6-6 last season.
"My main focus is going to be playing error-free offense," Looney said. "We're going to get after people on defense, that's a fact."
Last year, Ridgewood did not have much success getting after players on defense and finished the year 0-10. The non-winning record was the 11th in Castelamare's 12 years at Ridgewood and prompted the 1985 and 1990 conference coach of the year to step down.
Now, Looney must follow the footsteps of a man widely admired on the Ridgewood campus.
"I am not concerned about that at all," Looney said. "What happened with John is in the past. In the books. We're not going to look back, we're going to look ahead.
"I'm not here to compete with what coach Castelamare did. They selected me as the guy to be their head coach and all I can do is the best job I can do."
And what's in the future for Castelamare?
"John will remain at Ridgewood until the end of the school year," Krinn said. "We will have to wait and see what happens after that."