COAL TOWNSHIP - Mike Gurski, one of the leading candidates for the vacant Shamokin Area High School football coaching position, has taken himself out of the running.

Gurski withdrew his name from consideration for the position in a letter to Superintendent James Zack dated Dec. 22, citing "actions by several members of the board of directors which are indicative of deeper political issues, and are not supportive of a cohesive effort to build the football program I envision for the athletes of Shamokin Area."

Gurski, defensive coordinator for the Indians the past two seasons under head coach Dan Foor, who resigned after last season, and Yaacov Yisrael, head coach at Halifax Area High School, had emerged as the leading candidates for the post after interviews conducted by the school board's athletic committee last month. Apparently, each candidate had the support of four of the board's nine members. Rick Geist, former head coach at North

Schuylkill and Cardinal Brennan, was also a candidate, along with Todd Nye and John Ford, also Shamokin Area assistants; George Whary, an assistant coach at Easton High School, and local youth football coaches Dale Wilk and Ted Pietkiewicz. The athletic committee had apparently whittled the list down to Gurski, Yisrael and Geist, but not without acrimony.

In an interview Thursday, Gurski said several things he's heard from people on the street in recent weeks caused him to rethink his candidacy.

"I'm not a politician," Gurski said. "Politicians sometimes have their own agendas, whether for personal gain or whatever. We're talking about a football position. Whether it's my friendship with (school board president) Brian Persing, or one doesn't like my father, or one doesn't like Brian, or that I went to Lourdes, I know that still goes on.

"If I didn't have the credentials, that's one thing. But I think 16 years of coaching, eight at the collegiate level, have prepared me to be a head coach.

"Am I crazy mad at these guys? No. But the way I see it, I don't feel they necessarily care about the program or the kids in the program. They care more about I'm not going to get the job."

Persing and board member Robert Getchey, chairman of the athletic committee, voiced disappointment over Gurski's decision to withdraw his name and cited the same deeper political issues and lack of cohesiveness Gurski referred to in his letter as a detriment to the process.

"If I weren't on the board, Mike Gurski would have been hired by now," Persing said. "The fact is that there are a couple board members who hold the fact that he's a friend of mine against him. Because he's a friend of mine, he's being punished."

Gurski played high school football at Lourdes Regional and later played college football. He has coached at Susquehanna University and Selinsgrove High School in addition to his time at Shamokin.

His father, Francis "Moto" Gurski, is a former Coal Township player who spent many years affiliated with the athletic program at Lourdes.

"People were saying that Pete Long (Lourdes basketball coach) and Cory Houser (former Lourdes football coach) were going to be Mike's assistants, and that the staff was going to be all Lourdes people," Persing said. "People were holding things against Mike because they didn't like his dad."

"I haven't talked to Mike, but I've heard he was disappointed about some things he heard from people over the Christmas holidays," Getchey said. "People in this area need to quit this Lourdes-Shamokin-Coal Township stuff. People need to let this process take its course. Now there are hard feelings.

"I've known Mike since he was a little kid. He'd have been a great coach. There were never five votes for any candidate, though."

Persing added that interview sessions sometimes solidify an applicant's position and sometimes do the opposite, and noted that people needed to take other things into consideration.

"If everything were just based on experience, Rick Geist would be the head coach," Persing said, noting Geist's career record and approximately 20 years as a head coach. "But he has some baggage, too."

Gurski noted that he has a good full-time job as a treatment specialist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"I don't need this job," he said. "I told (former board member) Danny Venn after the last time, when I never got an interview, that I'd never do it (apply) again. But Dan (Foor) kept calling and calling for me to be an assistant, and I like Dan a lot and said yes. I missed coaching.

"I feel over the last two years, I've done my job there. As undermanned as we were, and with the injuries we had, which to his credit Dan Foor never made a big deal of, I feel I did a pretty good job keeping us in games. We were probably in eight of our 10 games despite our problem."