December 13 - His program has experienced some ups and downs over the past three seasons, but Oakton’s Justin Janis remains one of the area’s most-respected field generals and leads the magazine’s list of Northern Virginia high school head coaches under the age of 40.
Our ranking of the top five coaches under 40 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 under 40 in Northern Virginia, followed by notes on others that were considered.
1. Justin Janis, Oakton - His Cougars have been up-and-down since the graduation of Joe Rizzo, the highest-profile player in program history. They missed regionals in 2016, but won a region championship in 2017 and advanced to the quarterfinals last season. This spring could be a tough year with a lack of talent and depth in a program that usually enjoys both. But one thing that should continue is the ability of the 39-year-old Janis to get the most out of the talent he has on his roster. Oakton has made regionals in eight of his 10 seasons, won four league titles and appeared in two state tournaments during his tenure. He has a 135-94-1 record at the Vienna school.
2. Josh Steinberg, Patriot - It hasn’t taken Steinberg long to become one of the area’s most-respected coaches. With an unwavering demeanor and quiet confidence, the 30-year-old coach has guided the Pioneers to a 50-19 record over his three seasons - and he’s done it while under tremendous pressure by many in and around the school who are determined to knock Battlefield from its perch as the top program in Prince William County. One of a number of area coaches who played for Bill Brown at George Mason University, Steinberg led Patriot to a league title and state tournament appearance in 2017, when he was named his region’s Coach of the Year.
3. Jack Ferrick, Osbourn Park - He often looks as ready as his players to dig in for an important at-bat or take on a base runner heading for home, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the former catcher is all rah-rah and no substance. Players love suiting up for the energetic and personable Ferrick - the son of a longtime coach of the same name - and he’s built a perennial region qualifier while competing in a Cedar Run District that features two heavyweights in Battlefield and Patriot. The 33-year-old grinder deploys a fun, aggressive offensive and base running attack and has led the Yellow Jackets to three league championship games - including a tournament title in 2015 - and a 75-49 mark in his six seasons at the Manassas school.
4. Aaron Tarr, Marshall - The championships speak for themselves - Tarr has guided the Statesmen to five straight in the National District - and the 39-year-old took the program to its first state final in nearly two decades in 2015. During its five-year championship run, Marshall has lost just one league game. The expectation starts with Tarr, a tireless worker and student of the game who was groomed from an early age by his father, Pat, a longtime youth and high school coach who is now the program’s junior varsity coach. In his six seasons, Tarr has compiled a 100-44 record at the Falls Church school.
5. Micah Higgins, Highland School - Higgins has essentially built the Hawks’ program from the ground up, taking an average small private school program and building a perennial Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state contender. The 36-year-old has guided the Warrenton school to four Delaney Athletic Conference titles in five years and to state tournament appearances and 20-win seasons in each of the past three seasons, advancing to the state semifinals in each of the past two springs. Higgins has a 94-43 record in his seven seasons at the school.
Others Considered: Spotsylvania’s Travis Payne (27) has led the Knights to consecutive state tournament appearances and to the Class 3 state title last spring. … Woodgrove’s Rusty Smith (30) led the Wolverines to the Class 4 state tournament last spring. … Courtland’s Tim Acors (39) has won 97 games in seven seasons. … The future of the Liberty District is bright, with five young coaches that already have four-plus seasons as a head coach in McLean’s John Dowling (35), Washington-Lee’s Kevin Healy (36), Herndon’s Chris Metz (38), Yorktown’s John Skaggs (33) and South Lakes’ Morgan Spencer (39). An added bonus is that all five work as teachers, who generally stick around longer than coaches who aren’t employed in the school system. … First-year Robinson skipper Mike Gallagher (37) had success in his previous stops at Hayfield and Bishop Ireton. … Gar-Field’s Nick Grove (34), the son of a Pennsylvania coaching legend, led a long-suffering Indians program to 15 wins in his first season last spring. … W.T. Woodson’s Brett McColley (38) fields tough teams each spring in the deep Patriot District.
Note: Today’s story is part our series ranking the area’s best coaches, programs, fields and contributors.
Photo of Justin Janis by Fred Ingham