By MANNY NAVARRO
The first time Earl Tillman took over as head coach at Booker T. Washington for a member of the Ice Harris family things didn't go quite as planned.
Not only did the Tornadoes slip, so did Tillman.
A broken left tibia and fibula sustained breaking up a fight at a summer 7-on-7 game resulted in five surgeries over the next three years and consequently sidelined him while the Tornadoes went from state champions in 2007 to getting knocked out of the playoffs a round earlier each year.
The 44-year-old math and engineering teacher is expecting his second shot at being in charge of one of the nation's premier high school football programs will pan out much better.
Selected by school athletic director Hector Gray as Tim Harris' Jr. successor at the beginning of this month, Tillman spoke to The Miami Herald Thursday for the first time since getting his old job back and said he's ready to keep the Tornadoes rolling.
"I just felt like I was long overdue to have another opportunity," said Tillman, who went 28-8 his first three years as head coach at Booker T. from 2008 to 2010 and then stepped down to allow Ice Harris to retake the reigns.
"The first time around I wasn't at the best of health. When the opportunity presented itself and Coach Harris came back I was willing to step down and let him run the program as long as I was a part of the program. Since then, the program has been pretty successful.
"I wanted to make sure it continues. Being that I had the most experience of the guys that were still left here when [Tim Jr. left to become running backs coach at FIU in February], I just felt like I owed it to myself to make a push for it. My health is better. The guys that were here know what it takes. And we're going to keep it going."
The Tornadoes, who own the state's longest-active winning streak at 41 games, went a combined 96-10 under Harris Sr. and then 14-0 this past season with Tim Jr. at the helm after Harris Sr. joined Al Golden's coaching staff at the University of Miami following the 2013 season.
Gray said the decision to hire Tillman was made "following an extensive, national search." Gray said he received resumes and calls from coaches as far west as Nebraska and Texas and he interviewed seven to 10 candidates. He said Tillman was the best interview and the most qualified.
The Tornadoes open the 2015 season at defending Class 7A state champion St. Thomas Aquinas on the night of August 28. Tillman said the school is still working on trying to setup games with powers from Texas and New Jersey.
He said he has 11 assistant coaches returning and only four from last year's team including Tim Harris Jr. and defensive line coach Pierre Senatus (named Miramar's head coach) are gone.
"Torrance Moise, our old quarterback here when I was the coach, has come back from college and will be our quarterback's coach," Tillman said. "We've also brought back Benedict Hyppolite, who was with us in 2013, but spent last year at Edison. He'll be our new offensive coordinator. And we've added Torrance Snelling, who played at Northwestern. He'll be our defensive line coach."
Tillman, who spent the last few years as associate head coach and offensive line coach, said his toughest task will be replacing himself "as the eye in the sky up in the press box" during games.
"We know the expectations are going to be high," Tillman said. "We've been to four straight state championship games. That's a big expectation we've built. But we're not going to settle for anything less."