The rumors pertaining to the next high school football coaches in Gulf County became fact on Friday.
The application window closed for Friday and school officials have already forwarded recommendations to Superintendent of Jim Norton.
The recommendation Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School was to hire former Bozeman High School coach Loren Tillman as the next athletic director/football coach.
Out of Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School came a recommendation for a reunion, with John Palmer getting the nod to return to coach the Tiger Sharks, who he led to the 2005 state championship.
Norton said he agreed with the recommendations and will put them before the Gulf County School Board next month for formal approval.
Palmer, who amassed a 57-27 record in seven years at Port St. Joe, left in 2008 for Hernando High School and a chance to coach his alma mater.
“He left for a rare opening to coach is alma mater but now he gets a chance to come back to where he now considers home, Port St. Joe,” Norton said.
Palmer stepped down as football coach at Hernando two years ago to address health issues, but has a clean bill of health and has been a presence on a volunteer basis for the Tiger Sharks the past two years.
He has done some scouting for Coach Chuck Gannon, who retires at the end of the school year, and had worked the press box as a volunteer assistant for some games, particularly in the past year.
“The job Chuck has done the past two years to get the program back on track is a large part of all this,” Palmer said. “Our goal is to keep that upswing going. That is the job of next year’s team – to keep that going.
“We are very excited and can’t wait to get to work.”
Due to Gannon’s retirement, Palmer’s official hire date is March 24, allowing him to assume the reins of the football team in advance of the May 1 opening of spring football.
Tillman, who stepped aside as Bozeman football coach after 14 years, the last nine on the varsity level, will be, to some degree, going home.
His mother and father are from multi-generational Wewahitchka families and he said that when he graduated from Florida State University nearly two decades ago, Wewahitchka High School was the first place he looked for a job, though no openings existed.
“I feel like this has been a 19-year journey,” Tillman said. “I’m extremely excited. It’s a great opportunity for me, to get some place I want to be and a place where so much of my family is.
“I’m excited for me and excited for my parents. The people there have been 100 percent great to me.”
Tillman will remain on Bay County’s payroll through the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
He will start at Wewahitchka the following day.
But Tillman said he would take a leave of absence in the spring to be involved in spring football, including arriving early in the afternoon to be involved in weight training.
“I want to get in there and start building a relationship with the kids and getting out in the community so they can know what I am all about before we get into spring football,” Tillman said.
Tillman said he was also excited that Coach Dennis Kizziah, who has officially stepped down as football coach and athletic director but has one more year at the school, will be on hand to assist in the transition and showing him the ropes of his new job.
Norton said the new hires fit for a seamless transition as Palmer returns to a school he is familiar with; Tillman to a community in which he has deep roots.
“We are so excited because we really get to keep continuity of where the programs are going,” Norton said.