B y Derek Liebig
The Whitehall Central School varsity football team will have a new coach roaming the sidelines of Ambrose Gilligan Field next fall.
The Board of Education voted Monday night to appoint assistant coach Justin Culligan as its next head coach.
Culligan received five of seven votes (board members Michael Putorti and Theodore LaRose were absent) and will replace long-time head coach John Millett.
Millett and former assistant coach Neil Hughes had both applied for the head coaching job, but the board decided to go with Culligan.
Culligan, 36, teaches social studies, economics and government at Whitehall and has been an assistant football coach at Whitehall for six years, as well as head coach of the Railroaders’ successful outdoor track program.
“He’s been a diligent assistant for a number of years, he has head coaching experience from track, he mentored under John, and we feel he’s ready for the job,” Superintendent James Watson said.
Last month, Watson recommended to the board they replace Millett with Culligan, citing a 2009 agreement between Watson and the two coaches that Millett would coach two more years, then step down allowing Culligan an opportunity to take over as head coach.
At the time Watson was quoted as saying “I am very appreciative of what John did. He volunteered to step in and give us two years to right the ship when the program was struggling, and he did just that. Now we need to be fair to Justin.”
Millett, however, didn’t recall such an agreement.
“There was no agreement,” he said.
Millett, who has coached three generations of Whitehall football players, and has won 195 games, expressed displeasure with the board’s decision.
“It’s disappointing. I’ve been here since 1965,” he said.
Despite Millett’s departure, fans won’t notice much of a chance of the field.
“I hope to continue what John has built here. He did a great job of getting us back on track. He’s a legend and I’ve got some big shoes to fill.” Culligan said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”
Culligan has been an assistant coach for the last 19 years, starting at Queensbury a few months after graduating from the school in 1993. He went on to coach at South Glens Falls, Fort Edward and Saratoga Catholic, in addition to his time at Whitehall.
He feels those experiences should help him as he moves forward.
“I’ve tried to take little from all the coaches I’ve worked with,” Culligan said.
Joining him on the sidelines will be assistant coaches Bob Diekel, Neil Hughes, Richard Gould, Tom Egan and Jason Hoagland, all of whom return from last season.
“With the entire coaching staff returning, it should be a fairly easy transition. I feel like we’re ahead of the game,” Culligan said.
The Railroaders first games will be on Sept. 3 in Salem before returning home the following Friday for their first home game of the season against Lake George.