By: The Messenger Sports Reporter Dana Becker
The search to find Kevin Twait's replacement as Iowa Central head football coach came back to a person very familiar with Triton football.
On Wednesday, the school confirmed that Ellsworth head coach Jesse Montalto has been hired to replace Twait, who announced his retirement after 22 seasons on the sidelines for the Tritons this past fall.
A former player and coach at Upper Iowa University, Montalto led the Panthers to four consecutive bowl games, including a 55-14 victory over Northland in the Graphic Edge Bowl earlier this year. Ellsworth went 4-8 this past season under Montalto, including a 35-28 victory over his new team.
"Jesse has done a great job at Ellsworth. He has great vision, is competitive and a real hunger and fire to win," ICCC athletic director Rick Sandquist said. "We are very lucky and fortunate to get somebody of his caliber."
Sandquist added that over 60 applicants applied for the opening, with the list getting trimmed down to four. Two finalist were selected, with Montalto being the one offered the position.
"Iowa Central presents a lot of good opportunities as far as resources to try and better the situation and give us an opportunity to win a lot of games," Montalto said. "That is the biggest factor. Over the last four years on the recruiting battle, you realize some opportunities that are extremely positive about Iowa Central.
"Leaving Ellsworth is a tough situation, especially since I am currently out of town and I wasn't there to address the team. That hurt me more than anything else. We did a great job recruiting great kids that we really cared about. It was a tough decision, but it was a decision that had to be made."
Montalto also said that becoming the head coach at Iowa Central was an opportunity that was "too hard to pass up."
Following a career at Upper Iowa that left him among the all-time leaders in receptions, yards and touchdowns, Montalto was hired as the wide receivers coach with the Peacocks in 2005. Two years later he was promoted to offensive coordinator before coaching the quarterbacks from 2009-13.
In 2014, Montalto was named the new head coach at Ellsworth, leading the Panthers to four consecutive Graphic Edge Bowl appearances and victories. He posted an overall record of 20-26, including a 3-1 record vs. Iowa Central.
The Panthers went 7-5 in 2015, defeating Globe Tech and winning their final six games. They averaged almost 34 points per game and 467 yards of total offense, finishing second in the nation in rush attempts, fifth in passing yards and seventh overall in total offense.
"We are going to be exciting and fun to watch," Montalto said. "We'll be no-huddle and up-tempo, but that all starts with everything on the ground and dominating the line of scrimmage.
"We'll also get in and start with the players we have coming back. We'll establish a base with who we have and evaluate from there and filling holes to fit our system. If we have to adjust the system to fit the guys we have, we'll do that."
Ellsworth ranked 21st in the nation in yards per game this past year, averaging just over 393. They were fifth in rushing attempts, eighth in third-down conversions and third with 21 interceptions.
Sandquist, who himself is stepping down from his post as athletic director next summer, said that Twait was the one who first mentioned Montalto for the opening.
"Coach Twait speaks very, very highly of Jesse," he said. "He came to us and said we needed to take a look at him for the opening. For Coach Twait to recommend him right from the beginning, that shows the level of respect he has for him as a coach and person.
"I think they'll have a great working relationship."
Iowa Central went 1-9 this past season, closing out the year with an upset of Butler. The Tritons are slated to return quarterback BJ Phillips, running backs E'Quan Dorris, Justin Daubaris and Roman Edwards, wide receivers Carlton Todd and Mikal Baker, leading tackler Le'Vonte Larry and fellow defensive standouts Derrion Fountain, Logan Stewart and Jacob Giese.
THE MONTALTO FILE
2017 4-8 Graphic Edge Bowl (W, 55-14)
2016 6-6 Graphic Edge Bowl (W, 55-32)
2015 7-5 Graphic Edge Bowl (W, 32-19)
2014 3-7 Graphic Edge Bowl (W, 39-7)