He’s a man who talks a big game, and he has a resume filled with resurrections of moribund football programs to back it up. His name is Tony Howard DeCristofaro, and he’s the new head football coach at Milton High School.
His latest job before officially accepting the Milton job on Wednesday was as defensive coordinator, strength coach and assistant head coach at Pope. He spent most of his coaching career in Florida, but he didn’t live in Georgia very long before he got his first impression of Milton High School.
“When I moved up here four years ago I was coaching at Etowah, and we played Milton the first game of the season,” DeCristofaro recalled. “We were fortunate enough to beat them, but I thought they had much better looking kids than we had at Etowah. And we physically beat on them pretty good, but I thought, ‘Wow, I want to go see Milton High School.’ So I drove over the next day, just being new to the area and I thought, ‘Man, this is the Taj Mahal of high schools here.’”
Little did he know as he stood gawking at the colonnaded façade of the high school that four years later he would be the man charged with reversing a 60-year trend of mediocre-to-bad football at Milton. The Eagles have one playoff win in their history, and that came in 1953, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Web site.
In a 10-minute interview with DeCristofaro after he addressed his players for the first time on Wednesday, he uttered the words “confident” or “confidence” more than a dozen times. His aim is to rebuild the confidence of the players as a first step toward turning them into winners.
“We have to change the culture and change the attitude of the kids, first of all,” he said. “We’ve got to get them more confident. I’ve got a saying–I didn’t make it up–but success breeds success. You start having success in the weight room, which we’re going to push them like they’ve never been pushed in the weight room to get better. And if they know that they’re strong, that gives them confidence.”
DeCristofaro, who goes by “Howie” to those who know him on a first-name basis, practices what he preaches in the confidence department. As he speaks he exudes a firm belief in what he says. It was DeCristofaro’s demeanor that most impressed Milton athletic director Jamie Dixon as he sorted through the 100-plus resumes he received in application for the job.
“I’ve got to tell you, during the interview process I was at times taken aback by Howie’s ability to speak, to lead, the energy that poured out of his body–the things I think that are necessary to get us to the next level,” Dixon said.
DeCristofaro’s track record speaks to the effectiveness of his methods. He turned middling or bad programs at DeLand High School, Gaither High School in Tampa and New Smyrna Beach High School into perennial playoff teams, which also caught Dixon’s eye during the search process.
But it was the recommendation of Cobb County athletic director Steve Jones that turned DeCristofaro from an intriguing resume into a finalist for the Milton job.
“He’s been a good coach and a good leader and if he gives you a recommendation, you deserve it,” Dixon said of Jones. “I’ve gotten a lot of recommendations, but if Steve told me I need to talk to this guy, I’ve got to talk to him. And he was absolutely right.”
DeCristofaro is aware of the school’s historical lack of postseason success, but he is not daunted by it.
“I have no desire whatsoever to be mediocre, and if you want to be mediocre you need to go play at another school because that’s not what we’re about,” he said.
“I don’t think I’m any better than anybody else that’s ever coached here. I just think that after having done it for 28 years, I’ve got a little bit better perspective on it,” he added.
All of which is music to Dixon’s ears.
“We want to win on a regular basis and I think we’ve got the guy that’s going to get us there,” Dixon said.
DeCristofaro takes over for Scott Walker who resigned in January for personal health and family reasons. DeCristofaro will leave Pope and start at Milton on Feb. 28.