Keeler leaves Newberry to coach at Santa Fe

Published: Monday, January 3, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2011 at 2:58 p.m.

Santa Fe has its new football coach and didn't have to go far to find him.

Tommy Keeler, who has coached the last six seasons at Newberry, will be making the 13-mile move between schools and will trade in Panther blue for Raider red.

“I think Santa Fe has an awful lot to offer and I am excited about going there,” said Keeler on Monday afternoon. “At the same time I am also sad that I am leaving Newberry.”

Keeler posted a 38-29 mark at Newberry, which included guiding the Panthers to three straight playoff appearances from 2006-08. In 2007, Newberry had a breakout season and ended with a 13-1 record and reached the FHSAA Class 2B state championship game. Under Keeler, the Panthers have also won the last five season-opening, rivalry matchups with Santa Fe, three of which came at Raider Field.

The decision, which Keeler said he spent a lot of time really thinking about, was not an easy one.

“I have been an athletic director and a dean for the past four years and I have struggled with it,” Keeler said. “It is hard to be an athletic director and a head football coach, it got to be too much.

“I felt like it was taking away from my joy and passion of coaching football and I have the opportunity at Santa Fe to teach weightlifting and coach football,” the 52-year old coach said. “This had nothing to do with the kids at Newberry or at Santa Fe, this is personal and professional move.”

Keeler takes over for Shea Showers who resigned as Santa Fe's coach on Dec. 1. Showers, who played on Florida's 1996 National Championship team, owned a 5-25 record in three seasons at his alma-mater.

“He is a very well respected coach in this area,” said Santa Fe athletic director Michele Faulk. “He has some ideas that I am excited that he is going to bring to Santa Fe.

“I think Tommy has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I think his style of coaching will fit in well out here. He knows the game and he has proven himself a winner before.”

Santa Fe, which won the Class 3A crown in 1991 and the Class 4A state championship in 1994, has fallen on hard times. In the last nine seasons, the Raiders own a 24-68 mark, including just one playoff appearance and just two campaigns in which they had more than three victories. Santa Fe's best season during that span was in 2004, when the Raiders finished 7-5 and advanced to the Class 3A regional semifinals. That season, the Raiders were coached by Scott Pritchett, who came to Alachua after getting Newberry to the postseason five times.

Keeler, who plans on meeting with his new team on Wednesday, also expects to begin working with his new players on Jan. 24 which is the start of the second semester. As for Newberry, Keeler's departure leaves a void, but he plans on assisting Newberry principal Shane Andrew.

"Shane Andrew is a great friend and there is nothing that he could have done to change this," Keeler said. "I will help out anyway I can and I'd like the best coach to come in and take over.

"Over the next few days, I will talk with him and come up with a plan."

Although Keeler has left Newberry, ironically, he will coach his first regular season game with the Raiders, back at Panther Stadium to open the 2011 campaign.

"That will be very interesting," said Keeler about facing his former club. "I am going to go in there and coach everybody up the best I can."

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