A controversial coaching change in October made local high school football fans wonder how committed St. Augustine Prep was to building a winning program.
No one is asking those questions after the Hermits hired two prestigious coaches Friday.
The Hermits named Villanova defensive coordinator Mark Reardon as their head coach. Reardon, 40, is one of the most accomplished assistant coaches in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
Reardon brought along life-long friend and now former Holy Spirit head coach Charles Roman to be the Hermits' offensive coordinator. Roman just coached Spirit to back-to-back state titles.
The hirings say the Hermits want to compete with the state's best, including Don Bosco Prep of Bergen County - the nation's No. 1 team in 2010 and 2011.
"If you're not trying to be (the best) what are you trying to do?" said Reardon, who has only coached at the collegiate level. "Nobody rises to low expectations. We're not going to be afraid to set the bar high. We expect to win, and we expect to do it the right way."
Roman called the St. Augustine program one of the greatest opportunities that a New Jersey high school coach could have.
"The commitment that (St. Augustine) has made in bringing us both in says a lot about where they want to be," Roman said. "We've got a long way to go to even win the Cape-Atlantic League. But at the same time, that's not the goal. People can laugh if they want but the goal is to win the state Non-Public IV title and that puts you in the Top 5 in the country."
Reardon takes over the program after a tumultuous season. The Hermits parted ways with coach Dennis Scuderi on Oct. 20. Scuderi was 30-18 in five-plus seasons.
The school said it had a philosophical impasse with the coach. Scuderi said he was fired. St. Augustine athletic director Tony Iaconelli took over as the interim coach and the Hermits finished the season 4-6.
The awkward coaching change led many to question the direction of the Hermits' football program.
"This kind of (hire) answers some of those questions like, 'Do they really want to win?' and 'Are they really committed?' " Iaconelli said.
Reardon was at Villanova for 11 seasons. He coached a dominant Villanova defense that helped the Wildcats win the 2009 FCS National Championship.
"You don't get a shot at this caliber of guy that often," Iaconelli said.
Reardon grew up in Absecon and his football career began at Holy Spirit, where he graduated in 1989. Iaconelli coached for the Spartans when Reardon played.
Reardon went on to play at Lafayette College, where he starred at linebacker and was a four-year letter winner.
He is familiar with Cape-Atlantic League football. Reardon recruited several local players for the Wildcats, including current quarterback and St. Augustine graduate Dustin Thomas.
"I'm very excited to be home," Reardon said. "It will be good to wake up every morning and immerse myself back into the area."
Reardon also made the move from college to high school because he and his wife Tiffany have two children - 9-year-old Molly and 6-year-old Jack. College coaches are often on the road recruiting.
"To me, it was a quality-of-life decision, a family decision," he said. "My children are getting to an age where I need to be around more. In college, it's just not the season. Once the season is over, you're out the door."
Reardon and Roman are close friends and godparents to each other's children. They vacation together. They talk all the time.
"We've known each other since I was in first grade," Reardon said. "We always wanted to work together and try to build a program together."
Reardon said another important factor is that he will be in the building on a daily basis working in the school's guidance department. He said his goal is to help players get recruited to play in college.
"Spending 18 years in the college profession is something I'm going to play upon," he said. "I'm going to impress upon the kids that we can help them get to where we need to be."
The Hermits have had sporadic football success. They won a state title in 1995. They were a combined 19-2 under Scuderi in 2008-09. But more often that not the Hermits finish with sub .500 records.
Reardon will start at St. Augustine in January. The school has tremendous facilities, including an artificial grass field.
Reardon said he wants to build the Hermits' program one day at a time with a major focus on off-season weight training. Reardon said the school's administration wants a successful program.
"The thing that impressed me was the vision of what they wanted to be," he said. "The biggest thing about (St. Augustine) is that it really is untapped at this point."
St. Augustine would seem poised for success. The Hermits consistently excel in every sport but football.
The school is located in the Richland section of Buena Vista Township in western Atlantic County. The Hermits cam draw students from all over southern New Jersey and even Philadelphia.
"They have the geographic reach," Roman said. "They have incredible facilities. They're first class in every sport. That tells you it's a place waiting to explode."
Contact Michael McGarry:
High School/College: Holy Spirit/Lafayette
Backround: Reardon grew up in Absecon. He coached at Villanova for 11 years and was the defensive coordinator for seven years. He has never coached at the high school level. Villanova won the Football Championship Subdivision title in 2009.
High School/College: Holy Spirit/Lafayette
Backround: Roman grew up in Absecon. He coached college football at Delaware and other schools, before becoming a Holy Spirit assistant in 2003 under Bill Walsh. The Spartans won the 2007 state Non-Public III title. Roman took over as head coach after that season. Led the Spartans to a 35-9 record and two state titles in four seasons.