December 13 - It’s not often that a high school coach is able to build and sustain successful programs in multiple sports, but Tom Verbanic is that rare exception.
Flint Hill’s coach recently retired from football after winning his fourth state championship, but the 60-year-old skipper is still going strong on the diamond as he closes in on 400 career victories, and he tops our list of Northern Virginia’s top high school head baseball coaches.
Our ranking of the top five coaches came from testimonials from area coaches and is based on the following factors: an ability to lead teams to victories and championships, player development, in-game knowledge and management, and other qualities integral in building a program such as communicating with players and parents, building relationships within the community and youth leagues, hiring and developing quality assistants, fundraising and a proficiency in maintaining and upgrading facilities.
Here’s our list of the top five high school head coaches in Northern Virginia, followed by notes on others that were considered.
1. Tom Verbanic, Flint Hill - Verbanic has spent the past eight seasons overseeing one of the state’s best private school programs, averaging 16.7 victories and leading the Huskies to three Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament titles and seven Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I state tournament berths. A tremendous leader and role model on and off the field, Verbanic coached two future Major Leaguers while at Fairfax - Brian Buchanan and Bill Pulsipher - three future NFL players at Westfield - Eddie Royal, Evan Royster and Mike Glennon - and two recent high MLB draft picks while at Flint Hill in Khalil Lee and Tommy Doyle. While building Westfield’s dominant football program in the 2000s, he served as an assistant on Chuck Welch’s baseball staff and helped develop two additional future big leaguers in Brandon Snyder and Justin Bour. All told, he’s accumulated 234 victories as a head football coach and 385 as a head baseball coach. This spring, he could become the seventh Northern Virginia skipper to reach 400 wins.
2. Mark ‘Pudge’ Gjormand, Madison - Gjormand’s teams at the Vienna school have been remarkably consistent over the past 23 seasons, winning over 75 percent of their games and 15 league championships - including in their first season in the Concorde District last spring. In a town accustomed to winning big - the Warhawks program has won state titles in four different decades - Gjormand has delivered. His ability to develop and motivate helps players reach and exceed their potential, and an engaging personality has won over the support of the local community and businesses. That in turn has led to Madison building a fundraising machine that fuels one of the area’s top facilities and enables the team to travel to the east coast’s top spring break tournaments - many which the Warhawks have won. Gjormand has won the sixth-most games in Northern Virginia history and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. He’s compiled a 412-135 record during his tenure.
3. Scott Rowland, Centreville - Rowland has a Bill Parcells-like ability to quickly turn a program around. He won region championships in his first seasons at South Lakes in 1997 and Oakton in 2000, and came within a game of reaching the region final in his first year at Centreville last spring. One of the area’s top hitting technicians and best at manufacturing runs, Rowland has led teams to 14 consecutive winning seasons, four region titles and guided Oakton to its lone state title in 2000. He may face his biggest challenge yet at his current post, as the Wildcats have never won a championship at any level in their 30 seasons and compete in one of the state’s most-competitive leagues in the Concorde District. Rowland’s overall coaching record is 270-127 in 17 seasons.
4. Kevin Ford, Chantilly - The third Concorde District coach on this list, Ford’s teams have always been dangerous but have in particular emerged over the past half-decade, earning state tournament berths in four of the past five seasons. A reserved and well-prepared skipper known for developing pitchers and good situational offensive clubs, Ford has guided the Chargers to three league titles and to the league final in five of the past six seasons. He led them to three straight state championship games from 2014-16, and Chantilly broke through for its first state title in 2016. Ford has compiled a 186-121 record in his 13 seasons at the school.
5. Mike Covington, Potomac - Covington has continued his family’s coaching legacy - his father, Mac, was a longtime successful football and baseball coach in Prince William County - while continuing to build upon the groundwork laid before him at one of the area’s most-successful programs. Known for his ability to adapt and develop strong teams no matter the talent pool he inherits at the diverse Dumfries school, Covington’s teams have averaged 17.6 wins over his 25 years at the helm. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down either, the Panthers have advanced to the state tournament in two of the past three seasons and came within a win of the program’s third state title last spring. He has a 441-191 record during his tenure.
Others Considered: Loudoun Valley’s Wayne Todd has won 496 games over his 41 seasons, while Stone Bridge’s Sam Plank (299), Potomac Falls’ Joe Terango (291) and Paul VI Catholic’s Billy Emerson (283) could all reach the 300-win plateau in the spring. Todd led Broad Run to a state title in 1991 and Loudoun Valley to one in 2014, Plank led Stone Bridge to a state title in 2015, and Emerson has guided the Panthers to four VISAA Division I state titles. All four received significant consideration for the list. … West Springfield’s Jason Olms is coming off a state championship and has kept one of the area’s traditional powers humming along. … Battlefield’s Jay Burkhart had his Bobcats named the area’s top program by the magazine and has won nearly 72 percent of his games over his eight seasons at the school. … Jason Ritenour has had successful tenures at Woodbridge and C.D. Hylton and needs six wins to reach 200 for his career. ... Lake Braddock’s John Thomas has returned as a head coach in the area after building a successful program at McLean. … Adam Amerine doesn’t get enough credit for building perhaps the area’s most-consistent small school program at George Mason. … Colgan’s Mike Colangelo, a former Major League outfielder, is on his way to building a consistent winner at the third-year Manassas school. … Another former MLB outfielder, Potomac School’s Eric Crozier, has built a perennial VISAA Division I state tournament contender. … Kettle Run’s Ty Thorpe has won nearly 70 percent of his games in his 10 seasons, and Matt O’Saben led Northwestern District rival Fauquier to a state tournament appearance last spring. … Craig Lopez’s teams are in contention each spring at Mountain View, as are Tommy Harrison’s teams at Stafford and Jim Labrusciano’s teams at North Stafford. The trio give the Commonwealth District three very good, seasoned skippers. … Westfield’s Rob Hahne is regarded as one of the area’s top baseball minds. … Fairfax’s Rick Freeman and Episcopal’s Chris Warren have enjoyed success at both public and private schools, and they’ve combined for 443 victories in 41 seasons. … Mark Wrighte continues to build the program at Freedom-South Riding, which is coming off a state tournament appearance. Wrighte, along with Briar Woods’ Rob Sikora and Stone Bridge’s Mat Shannon, are relatively early in their respective head coaching tenures after building stellar reputations as longtime assistants. … All five coaches on our best-under-40 list are certainly trending in the right direction: Oakton’s Justin Janis, Patriot’s Josh Steinberg, Marshall’s Aaron Tarr, Osbourn Park’s Jack Ferrick and Highland School’s Micah Higgins. … Rock Ridge’s Paul Koch and Wakefield’s Mike Ruck have enjoyed success at multiple programs. … Forest Park’s Steve DeNard, Courtland’s Tim Acors and South Lakes’ Morgan Spencer have built consistent winners at their current schools, while West Potomac’s Jimmy Linza, Washington-Lee’s Kevin Healy and Robinson’s Mike Gallagher embark on tenures at new schools after building competitive programs on previous stops. … Fredericksburg Christian first-year coach Jeff Petty has developed one of the nation’s top travel programs in the EvoShield Canes, now he will try his hand at building a successful private school program.
Note: Today’s story is part our series ranking the area’s best coaches, programs, fields and contributors.
Photo of Tom Verbanic courtesy of Flint Hill Athletics