Union City Superintendent of Schools Sandy Sanger called the process of hiring a new football coach at Union City High School “the toughest decision he’s ever made as an administrator.”
“We’re obviously looking to improve our football program and when you take a chance to go outside of the school system for the first time ever, you want to make sure it’s an intelligent decision,” Sanger said. “We wanted to bring in a coach who could build and lead for the long term, like for the next eight, 10, 12 years.”
So the powers-that-be decided that the new coach of the Soaring Eagles would be a familiar face – namely Ferris coach Wilbur Valdez.
Valdez, the former Hoboken High and University of Miami standout, agreed to terms with Union City officials last week and was officially appointed at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night.
It ended nearly five months of speculation concerning the job, which began last November when school officials recommended that the football coach at Union City should be bilingual.
When that declaration was made, it sealed the fate of former coach Joe Rotondi, who was the head coach at Union Hill for nine years and was given the job at the unified Union City when the two schools merged two years ago.
Rotondi didn’t have the success at Union City that was anticipated, going 5-5 the first season and 3-7 in 2009.
So when that declaration was made in November, it meant that Union City was going to pursue either Valdez or former Emerson head coach Eddie Marinez, both of whom are bilingual.
In fact, it was first written here that Valdez and Marinez were the two prime candidates for the position – although it would have been hard to make Marinez the head coach, because he’s a vice-principal in the district and administrators are not allowed to serve as head coaches in the district.
Now, as it turns out, Valdez will be the head coach and Marinez will be an assistant on the new staff, along with Valdez’ assistant coaches at Ferris – and all former Hoboken grid legends in Tyrell Dortch, Keeon Walker, Carlos Perez and Ravon Anderson. Anderson, the former softball coach at High Tech, is the only one who didn’t coach with Valdez at Ferris. The Union City Board of Ed allowed Valdez to bring in his own assistant coaches, which is definitely a brilliant move.
“We wanted to have someone who had a background of success as a head coach,” Sanger said, mentioning the incredible turnaround Valdez enjoyed at Ferris, taking a program that won just one game before he arrived to regularly winning six games each year for the last five years. “We want to establish a program that can take us to the next level. Wilbur Valdez did very well in Jersey City with limited resources. We felt that he was the one who could take this program to a higher level, who could build the program and develop it. I’m confident we made the right decision.”
Valdez emerged from a pack of candidates that included former Hoboken coach Ed Stinson (who ironically was Valdez’ head coach in high school), former Hudson Catholic head coach Rob Stern and Zach Naszimento, who works in the Union City district and has been an assistant coach with Stinson at Queen of Peace the last two years.
“I’ve always known that Union City has been filled with special athletes,” Valdez said. “They’re tough, hard-working kids. And there’s always been great support from the school and the town. The whole town rallies behind sports and kids. I definitely felt it was a great opportunity for me. The administration has been great and made sure I felt comfortable. They’ve allowed me to bring my entire staff, which was a necessity.”
Valdez said that he met with his players on Monday, because the rumors were running rampant that he was about to leave.
“It was on the Internet and going around the school,” Valdez said. “I saw a couple of down faces around the school. So I called a meeting to tell the kids. It was the hardest part of this whole thing, to tell the kids I was moving on. The kids at Ferris did their part to make me the coach I am. They did the hard work. I wanted them to know that this wasn’t about them. It was just an opportunity that was better for me.”
Valdez likes the challenge of coaching at Union City.
“The talent is there,” Valdez said. “It’s one school in one city. I absolutely believe I can get it done.”
While Valdez is not a bad choice as a new coach, how the process transpired is beyond bizarre.
There was first the declaration of having a bilingual coach, which definitely sealed Rotondi’s fate and certainly propelled Valdez into the forefront.
Then, the process opened up to include respected coaches like Stinson and Stern, who were both contacted by Union City officials about whether they would have interest in the job.
Then all four candidates were brought in for interviews in front of a four-member search committee, a process that had apparently pushed Stinson, a coach with 250 career wins and seven NJSIAA state titles on his resume, to the forefront.
In fact, I was informed by some members of the committee that the recommendation from the committee to the Board of Ed was unanimously in favor of Stinson. That was last Thursday.
Sanger denies that was the case.
“There was never any recommendation from the committee,” Sanger said. “Wilbur Valdez was the leading candidate all along.”
Well, something happened between last Thursday and Tuesday. Someone made the decision within that four-day time frame to hire Valdez over Stinson.
“No one ever said anything to me,” said Sanger, who is recuperating from recent hip surgery. “No one said, ‘You have to hire this guy because he is Hispanic.’ It’s never been the case. The best person got the job. That’s the thought process here.”
In any case, if the plan all along was to hire a bilingual Dominican coach, then why drag Stinson, Stern and Naszimento into the process in the first place? The powers-that-be could have hired Valdez from the start and not made the process elongated for two whole months.
As much as I respect and like Wilbur Valdez, a guy I’ve known for more than 15 years, someone I’ve grown to have a good personal relationship with, it’s hard to say he’s the best candidate for the job when his own high school coach, someone with a stellar, impeccable resume, was also up for the same position.
Wilbur Valdez may indeed turn out to be a good hire. He’s young, energetic, a respectful young man and a good football coach. He is of Hispanic descent. He is a Dominican who is bilingual. All true facts.
But the process of how Valdez was hired was not handled correctly. And how it all went down and changed dramatically in four days will always be a major question that we may never know the real reason for.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.