Wildcats name new head coach

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Steven Crist knew he had to jump at the opportunity for his first football head coaching job when the position opened up at Manassas Park High School last year.

He felt a similar calling again this past December when it was revealed that Warren County head football coach Tony Tallent was leaving for the same position at Rock Ridge High School. Crist, who served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Tallent for six seasons with the Wildcats before departing for Manassas Park this past season, is returning to Warren County.

Crist was officially named the school’s new head football coach at the Warren County School Board meeting last Thursday.

“It feels great to be back,” Crist said on Monday afternoon. “My family and I are extremely excited to have this opportunity. We still live in this community, and it’s just a great opportunity for myself and my family.

“I never expected this opportunity to come when it did,” he added. “I’m not going to say that I regret the decision I made [going to Manassas Park], because it was a decision that had to be made and I took the opportunity when it was there. This was not something that was expected at all. It happened, and I’m very glad for myself. It’s an opportunity that I thought I had to take both last year and this year.”

Crist returns to take over a Warren County program that has made great strides in Tallent’s seven years at the helm. In Tallent’s first season as head coach in 2007 — which was also Crist’s first year as a Warren County assistant — the program struggled due to depleted numbers that came as a result of the school’s split into then-newly formed Skyline High School. The Wildcats won just two games that year, but have since gone on to make the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.

Crist was on Warren County’s staff for the first three playoff trips in 2010, 2011 and 2012, including when the Wildcats reached the Region II, Division 3 championship game in 2010.

Last season, the Wildcats went 8-4 and advanced to the second round of the 3A East Region playoffs.

“[Tallent has] set an outstanding standard for the football program here. He’s set it up so that it’s not just a team from year to year, it’s a program that is sort of continuous,” Crist said. “We’re going to continue to build on that. Great things have been accomplished in the past seven years and we just look to continue to build on that.”

Warren County athletic director Jim Grooms cited Crist’s familiarity with the program as a major reason as to why he was chosen from a field of about 22 applicants.

“With him coming back there will be less of a learning curve for everybody, for the kids, for the coaches,” Grooms said. “He’s helped establish something over these seven years and I think he’s the person that can continue it. He’s been here from the start. He knew what it was like at the beginning [in 2007] and he’s seen what we’ve done. I think he wants to come back and continue that program and continue to grow it. I look for him to be here for an extended period of time.”

In Crist’s one season at Manassas Park, he led a Cougars squad that struggled to a 2-8 season, including a winless 0-7 mark in the Bull Run District.

Prior to his initial stint at Warren County, Crist was an assistant football coach at Radford High School for several seasons. He also held football assistant coach positions at Harrisonburg and Altavista high schools after graduating from Bridgewater College in 1999.

Crist’s father, David, has been the head football coach at Blacksburg High School for nearly 40 seasons.

“I’ve been fortunate everywhere I’ve been to have great head coaches — ultra-successful with wins and losses, but just as successful making their players better people,” Crist said. “My dad is certainly an influence on me personally and in the coaching and teaching profession. To single one [coach] out would be difficult, to be honest. They’ve all been influential and had a major impact on me personally and professionally.”

Crist said he doesn’t expect to make sweeping changes to Warren County’s schemes, although he won’t know exactly what kind of style the Wildcats will play until he gets a better idea of his future on-field personnel and coaching staff. Crist has yet to determine who will comprise his staff, but he said he “definitely” hopes that all of Warren County’s assistant football coaches return next season.

Crist was to meet with Warren County’s football team later on Monday afternoon, during which time he said they would discuss Crist’s expectations as well as offseason workouts.

“We’re going to have high expectations, certainly, but it’s not just about wins and losses,” Crist said. “How we play, how we prepare, how we are in the classroom, how we are in the community is what I’m most interested in. And then that will take care of what happens in the games.”

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD