Previous offers had been extended, but this time, Derek Kurnitsky said, he could not pass turn away.
Kurnitsky, for the past 10 years the boys’ basketball coach at Port St. Joe High School, announced Friday that he was accepting the same position at Orange Park High School in the Jacksonville area.
Kurnitsky will be moving up in school classification – from Class 1A to Class 6A – but in terms of class of community, he said that would be difficult to replicate.
“I’ve learned how to coach here,” Kurnitsky said. “I’ve been with awesome people and around an awesome place. It was a hard decision and it is very bittersweet. But I coach from my gut and my gut told me you don’t pass up a great opportunity like this.”
Port St. Joe represented the first extensive head coaching stint of Kurnitsky’s career.
“I could not have landed in a better place (than Port St. Joe),” he said. “I came here a bachelor and I met my lovely wife, Kim, and had children. Life has been good to me in Port St. Joe.
“And I like to think I made a difference in the town, the community and the kids.”
After graduating college from Florida State University, he was a name manager for the 1993 Seminole team that reached the NCAA elite eight, Kurnitsky spent time as an assistant at Clearwater High School before moving to North Carolina and beginning to climb the ladder as a junior varsity coach.
He landed at Tallahassee Godby for a season in 2003 before being hired by Port St. Joe High.
In 10 seasons at Port St. Joe, the Tiger Sharks averaged just shy of 18 wins a season, won seven district titles, reached a regional title game five times, reached four state final fours and the 2007 state title game.
He was the Big Bend Coach of the Year in 2006, the Dairy Farmers Coach of the Year in Class 2A in 2007 and coached two professional athletes, Roman Quinn, a former second-round pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft and Calvin Pryor who was a first-round pick in the NFL draft earlier this month.
Five of his players finished their scholastic careers with over 1,000 points.
The one thing that eluded Kurnitsky was a state title.
“A lot of coaches don’t have the opportunity to go to four final fours and a championship game,” Kurnitsky said. “If I never win a state championship I am not going to jump off a building.”
And Kurnitsky arrives at Orange Park to resurrect a program that has had a losing record two years running.
Kurnitsky said he begins June 1 to build a program, kicking off his summer program June 2.
“I do look forward to the challenge of going and building a program,” Kurnitsky said. “I also always wondered what it was like to coach at a larger school. Any coach at a smaller school who says they don’t think about that isn’t being completely honest.
“I’ve had other places call and check on me, but it was never the right time or the right place. Orange Park is an awesome job and an awesome place. But it will be really tough leaving Port St. Joe.”