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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2005

Hannah high-tails outta here

City youth leaders were not Hog wild


[John Hannah BY BROCK PARKER
bparker@cnc.com
Journal Staff

The Hog left a big goose-egg in Somerville.

After an 0-11 season coaching the Somerville High School football team, former Patriot great John "Hog" Hannah left Somerville for a coaching job at a military school in Tennessee last week, said Mayor Joe Curtatone, who was instrumental to bringing Hannah to Somerville.

"It's the region he's from," Curtatone said. "I wish him the best of luck. My understanding is he wasn't looking [for the coaching job] as much as he was recruited."

He will also be leaving his job as the city's youth development coordinator, where the coach drew criticism from youth leaders about a lack of experience working with kids and an abrasive management style. During Hannah's tenure, the youth department was overhauled, including the firing of Silvia Almanzar as community youth program coordinator. Almanzar was replaced by another former Patriot star, Roland James, who recently resigned as the Sharon High School football coach.

Hannah did not return the Journal's phone calls seeking comment. He resigned effective immediately last Thursday said Curtatone spokesman Lucy Warsh.

Fluffy Bergman, a member of the Somerville Youth Workers Network and Mystic Learning Center employee, said she was "delighted" to hear Hannah was leaving.

"I'm surprised, but I'm very happy because I think the city can now move forward," Bergman said " I don't think John Hannah was a real team player."

Bergman said she thought Hannah tried to work with the different youth leaders in the city but "couldn't bring people together," despite the large amount of money invested in his salary. Hannah was being paid a $60,000 salary for the youth spot and about another $15,000 for his coaching duties.

"I think he tried," Bergman said of Hannah. "It just didn't work out, and when it doesn't work out, I guess it's time to move on."

"John was very valuable and helped us make some tough and fast decisions last year," Curtatone said.

Curtatone said Hannah played an important role in setting up the city's OxyContin and suicide task forces last spring, while the city was dealing with several drug- and suicide-related deaths at Somerville High School.

With Hannah on his way out, Somerville Community Corporation worker Alex Pirie said Curtatone will need to hire someone with "deep" experience working with kids to "restore some credibility to the youth program. "Youth workers are professional people," Pirie said.

On the football field, Hannah didn't fare much better.

Despite promising the Highlanders would win when he was hired, Hannah was on the sidelines to watch his team run up an inherited losing streak to 23 straight games. Hannah did coach the team to a victory over Medford, but the coach was then forced to forfeit the game because he had fielded an ineligible player.

But the low point for the coach's season may have been when local man Josh Schuler claimed Hannah slapped him on the head in front of Somerville High School on Highland Avenue last fall. Schuler filed a criminal complaint but later dropped it. Hannah said he wasn't even in Somerville when the alleged assault occurred and denied any involvement.

Jerry Knight, the athletic director for Somerville schools, said he "did not" know Hannah was looking for another coaching job.

"We'd have liked to see him stay a little longer," Knight said.

But Knight said he never thought Hannah would be the Highlander coach for long.

"He was looking at a two-year commitment to Somerville," Knight said.

Tony Gulla, the football coach Hannah replaced, coached the Highlanders for seven years. Gulla left the coaching spot for a job in Florida.

Replacing the football coach is already in the works. Knight said he's already working on setting up a hiring committee to work on the coach's spot, and the job will be advertised soon.

Curtatone said the city is already beginning to look for Hannah's replacement as the youth coordinator and is about to post the position in the want ads.

Alderman at Large Denise Provost said with Hannah's departure she'd like the city to conduct a "needs assessment", to address a number of "gaps" in youth services in the city.

'I think we have a great opportunity to bring in some youth leadership," Provost said.

Provost said the city also needs to better define the role of the youth coordinator if it is going to continue paying a $60,000 salary for the position. "To my knowledge, it hasn't been defined at all," Provost said of the coordinator's job. "Since it was the highest paid [position in the youth department] it was pretty much the defacto leader of the youth department."