Ninety resumes, eight candidates, two final candidates and several interviews later, Ponte Vedra High School has found the man it believes will not only continue the winning ways of its football program, but elevate that standard too.
Jeff DiSandro, previously the offensive coordinator at Bishop Kenny High School, is the new head football coach of the Sharks, as announced by Ponte Vedra on Tuesday. He replaces former coach Matt Toblin, who left Ponte Vedra in March to become the head coach of Bolles.
“He checked every box,” Ponte Vedra Athletic Director Eric Frank said about DiSandro. “We’re very excited about the future of our program, and he is too. You can see it on his face when he talks about football.”
DiSandro, 36, has served as offensive coordinator of Bishop Kenny since spring 2016. He previously coached in the collegiate ranks at the Division II and Division III levels, with stints of varying positions at Olivet Nazarene University, his alma mater outside of Chicago, as well as Malone University in Canton, Ohio, Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois and Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. The Shaumburg, Illinois native played offensive guard and center while attending Olivet Nazarene.
His background also includes some time outside of coaching in 2012, when DiSandro was a police officer for about a year and a half in Charleston, South Carolina.
Currently, DiSandro works at 6 Points quarterback academy in Jacksonville, where he works with longtime quarterback coach Denny Thompson. The position at Ponte Vedra is his first head coaching position in his career.
“I’m so excited,” DiSandro said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity, especially being at Ponte Vedra. I felt like in my football world, head coach is the pinnacle of leadership in this profession. I just felt like after years of being an assistant, it was my time to pursue this opportunity of becoming a head coach, specifically at the high school level.”
The new Sharks coach said he was attracted to Ponte Vedra’s culture of discipline, execution and effort, as well as its academic prowess, aesthetics and surrounding community.
He also said his offensive system mostly showcases a multiple tight end spread, which he noted has been the status quo for Ponte Vedra for several years.
DiSandro inherits a football program that went 8-3 in 2018 and 39-18 overall in five seasons under Toblin, who led the Sharks to a runner-up finish in the 2016 Class 5A state championship.
To continue that success, DiSandro said he plans to meet stakeholders in the program and gain as much information as he can about the foundation and what’s important. He also believes it’s important to establish a culture with “one heartbeat,” encourage student-athletes to focus on their “personal best” and build upon the character education piece that he said has already been fundamental to Ponte Vedra for several years.
As for his leadership style, DiSandro said he is “more of a relational guy,” noting that student-athletes “don’t know how you know until they know how much you care.”
Frank said this emphasis on character building, servant leadership and building relationships is what set DiSandro apart.
“He said in one of the interviews he looks forward to building men that are built for others,” Frank said. “I think that’s tremendous, because there’s much more to high school sports than wins and losses and Friday night lights. It’s all about relationships and creating our young men into leaders and people of high character who are going to go into our world and make our world a better place.”
Frank combed through 90 resumes of candidates spanning approximately 20 states to narrow down his search to eight. Of those eight candidates, four hailed from Florida, and four came from out of state.
The elite eight went through a two-day interview process consisting of a one-on-one interview with Principal Dr. Fred Oberkehr, an interview with a panel including Frank, two assistant principals and a Ponte Vedra resident, and a tour of the campus with the school’s maintenance coordinator. After those two days, Ponte Vedra narrowed the hiring process down to two people, who were brought in for a one-on-one with Frank, an additional interview with Oberkehr and an interview with three student-athletes on the football team and interim head coach Joe Conroy.
“That says a lot about Jeff,” Frank said about the rigor of the interview process. “I’m excited for our student-athletes that they get the caliber of coach that Coach DiSandro is.”
Frank noted that there will be a transition period between Conroy, who the athletic director praised for his interim leadership, and DiSandro during spring football. Ironically, Ponte Vedra’s spring game is against Bishop Kenny on May 17 at 7 p.m. at home. Former Nease head coach Tim Krause is now the head coach of Bishop Kenny.
“I have tremendous respect for Coach Krause, and I think he’s a great coach and a great guy,” DiSandro said. “There are a lot of good people at Bishop Kenny and a lot of really good players at Bishop Kenny. It should be a great atmosphere and a tremendous opportunity to compete.”
Off the football field, DiSandro taught physical education and social studies at Bishop Kenny. As for his future role at Ponte Vedra, he said he and the school are currently “working through that process.” Regardless, Frank said he sees DiSandro becoming a fixture of the Ponte Vedra community for some time.
“He’s looking to find a community, dig in, be part of it and help create a legacy,” Frank said. “It’s not a legacy about him. It’s (to) continue a legacy about our school and putting our student-athletes first.”