SALADO — There is no spring break in the quest to hire Salado’s next athletic director. In fact, the annual time off from school might have actually sped up the process.

After interviewing four finalists Thursday, the Salado Independent School District selection committee appears to have found their next head football coach/athletic director, with a formal recommendation expected to be made before the SISD school board at 7 p.m. Monday — more than a week ahead of schedule.

“At the end of the day, after extensively checking references — the ones on the resumes that they submitted but also from other sources that we have — I’m confident we have the right one that I’m going to recommend to the school board Monday night,” said Salado ISD Superintendent Michael Novotny, who wouldn’t divulge the recommendation out of respect for the other three finalists.

This is the second time in the process that the schedule has been pushed forward. The original plan was to have a recommendation for the April 1 board meeting, but because of scheduled the time off for spring break, a third round of interviews was pushed up to Thursday.

“We made some adjustments because we did find out that a couple of our finalists had opportunities in other districts where they were also finalists for, so we didn’t want to lose out on the one of our picking to other districts,” Novotny said.

The four finalists include a trio of current head coaches in 1A Axtell athletic director Mike Cadell, 4A Bastrop athletic director Gerald Perry and 2A Maypearl athletic director Tony Johnson, along with 4A Sherman defensive coordinator Brent Graham.

“All four of them would be outstanding, so it really was a difficult decision,” Novotny said.

Novotny said the process picked up traction this week after 15 candidates were brought in for a second round of interviews Monday and Tuesday. A third round of interviews with the four finalists was held Thursday and the selection committee finished checking references later in the evening.

The position, vacated when former athletic director Glenn Talbott resigned Feb. 13 after being unable to come to an agreement with Novotny on the direction of the program, received 153 total applications. From that initial list, 43 candidates were brought in for the first round of interviews, which took place over several days between March 6-13.

“In my 14 years of hiring (as an administrator), and I’ve hired a couple hundred people over those year, I will say this is the most extensive process that I’ve gone through,” Novotny said. “I’ve never interviewed more than 16 people for one position before and we interviewed 43 during that first round. So a lot of firsts for me during the search process.”

The process involved three separate committees made up of 11 individuals, including a combination of Novotny, Salado High principal Burt Smith, current Salado senior student-athletes Jon Franz and Madi DePriest, parents Ron Van Winkle and Jamie Wentrcek, along with Salado girls athletic coordinator Cindy Mewhinney, golf coach Bobby Peschel and volleyball coach Rachel Lee, among others.

“I think we had a very thorough and extensive process and the quality and the quantity of the candidates was amazing,” Novotny said.

Graham is currently entering his fifth year as the defensive coordinator at 4A Sherman, which has been in the playoffs each of his four seasons (2009-12), including three straight area-round appearances and a 4A state quarterfinal run in 2011.

Prior to Sherman, Graham spent two years (2007-08) as the recruiting coordinator, secondary coach and director of football operations at the University of Tulsa, where he worked under his uncle, current Arizona State head coach Todd Graham.

Cadell has been the head football coach and athletic director at 1A Axtel since 1997, compiling an 80-86 record in 16 seasons, including going 11-2 in 2004 with six winning seasons.

Johnson just finished his first season as the head coach and athletic director at Maypearl (1-9), and was an assistant coach for three years at South Grand Prairie. Johnson has prior head coaching experience with a two-year stint at Wichita (Kan.) South High School and Bethany (Kan.) College.

Perry has spent the last six years as the head coach and athletic director at 4A Bastrop, where he compiled a 27-27 record including a 10-4 campaign and 4A state quarterfinal run in 2010. Prior to that he was an assistant coach for six years at Plano East.

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