Santa Fe Catholic Names Saliba as Head Baseball Coach
Thu. August 09, 2012 at 12:33 a.m. | By Polk Preps Staff
By JUSTIN KLINE
Legal trouble behind him, David Saliba can now get back in the dugout to coach high school baseball players.
But for the first time in nearly three decades, the home games won't be at Winter Haven High School.
Saliba was named head coach of Santa Fe Catholic baseball Wednesday afternoon, as the school sought to improve upon last season's 9-14 record under coaches Chris Nattania and Steve Beach. He'll also teach physical education.
"We are thrilled to have David join our staff," Santa fe athletic director Jason Montgomery said. "Seldom do you have the opportunity to have a candidate as strong as coach Saliba available when you have an opening."
Saliba's record at Winter Haven included 582 wins, three state finals appearances and 24 players drafted by major league clubs.
"When you've got a guy with that much experience, there's a lot of things he brings to the table," Montgomery said. "At the end of the day, we felt that he was the best option we had for creating opportunities for our student-athletes."
Santa Fe is the last Polk County program to win a state baseball championship, which happened in 1995, and finished state runner-up in 2006 under Matt Franzino, who is now the school's principal.
Saliba's tenure at Winter Haven came to a close in April when he resigned after being accused of taking money generated from the concession stand.
A State Attorney's Office investigation concluded that Saliba comingled money from the Winter Haven High baseball program with an offseason American Legion program. But the report said the money was mixed "for the purpose of simplicity and access" and that Saliba had no criminal intent.
"I knew what really happened," Saliba said, "so I wasn't worried about it."
In July, while the investigation was still under way, Saliba decided to come out of retirement in time to coach the 2012-13 season. It was then reported that he had interviewed for the open position at Santa Fe.
"I had a lot of different offers," Saliba said. "But I felt that Santa Fe was the best fit for myself and my family."
Montgomery said the school's search for a coach ended last week..
"We had several people that we thought were qualified candidates," Montgomery said, "and we conducted our last interview on Friday of last week. We had a number of applicants, and we ended up interviewing four."
Saliba now moves from Class 6A to Class 3A. But there is one thing he knows will remain the same:
"The baseball field's still the same size," he said. "That doesn't change, no matter where you're at. I hope to continue to help kids reach their maximum potential on and off the baseball field, just like at Winter Haven."
Montgomery knows that he'll be fielding questions related to the allegations from time to time, but he's prepared to deal with the press.
"We feel like we got a quality coach, and we're 100 percent confident in the decision we made," he said. "We have no reservations."
Understandably, he doesn't have much to say about who will manage the money at Santa Fe.
"We have policies in place that all our coaches will have to adhere to," he said.
Saliba is ready to move on from this bump in the road and focus on the task at hand.
"This is an excellent academic school," he said, "and we hope to bring the baseball up to the same high standards."
[ Information from The Ledger's archives was used in this report. ]