Shortly before winter break, Joe Mangano pulled aside Neil Sullivan and confided that he was stepping down as North Stafford’s head football coach.
Sullivan used the advance notice to consult his wife, Erin, and decide whether he’d apply for the impending opening.
Their deliberation was brief.
“I knew it was a dream position,” said Sullivan, whose hire was approved by the Stafford County school board on Tuesday night. “Just a really good fit.”
Sullivan, 30, served as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator the past three seasons, following a six-year coaching stint at James Madison High School in Fairfax. A member of Riverbend’s first varsity football team, Sullivan went on to play on the offensive line at Randolph-Macon College.
“We had a very good pool to draw from, but at the end of the day, his experience and knowledge of the game shined through,” North Stafford athletic director Mark Coleman said of Sullivan, who teaches English.
Coleman said North Stafford’s search centered on a candidate who could continue the success engineered by Mangano over the past decade. A panel conducted seven interviews, and four applicants were brought back for second interviews.
Fresh off a Region 5D championship and appearance in the Class 5 state semifinals, Sullivan won’t try to reinvent things. The Wolverines will continue to operate a spread offense with air-raid concepts and play press man coverage on defense.
“We’ve got the whole coaching staff back—minus Joe—and we want to continue to build on the tradition of excellence,” Sullivan said.
Mangano, who announced his retirement from coaching in January, called plays when the Wolverines were on offense. That duty will fall to longtime offensive line coach Kevin Odlum.
One of Sullivan’s main initiatives is renewing interest in the Wolverines’ freshman and junior varsity programs, which have struggled with participation fallout in recent seasons.
“We want to be aggressive about getting the kids playing,” he said.
North Stafford graduated Penn State signee Devyn Ford at running back, as well as an elite pass rusher in Delaware-bound Chase McGowan, but Sullivan believes the program has plenty of athletes with which to restock.
Reigning Free Lance-Star All-Area player of the year Jamir Boyd returns at quarterback, while Javon Swinton and Shawn Asbury will once again be counted on to contribute on both sides of the ball.
When a dislocated ankle and broken fibula relegated Mangano to coaching from the press box for much of this past season, he put Sullivan in charge of the Wolverines’ sideline. Mangano also “pulled back the curtain” on administrative duties like budgeting and fundraising, Sullivan said.
Now, it’s his operation.
“I’m really excited to continue working with our group of kids and coaches, it’s a high-character group,” Sullivan said. “Our administration is supportive of that environment and being part of that community, that’s really important and exciting to me.”