Former QB Toman found his calling in becoming a successful coach
John Toman’s first prominent moment on the local sports stage came as a basketball player at Dieruff in 1986.
Toman, who was also the Huskies football quarterback, was inserted into the lineup of a District 11 4A semifinal against Whitehall tied at 37 with two seconds left on the clock. Whitehall, just four years removed from a state crown and a perennial hoops powerhouse, was a heavy favorite.
Toman fired the ball the length of the court at Stabler Arena. Ron Lacey snatched his pass and converted a layup for one of the most memorable wins in Husky basketball history.
More than 33 years later, Toman is still passing things to others.
Even as he has established himself as one of the most successful coaches in local scholastic football, Toman would rather credit his kids and his coaching staff.
Earlier this season, Toman earned his 100th career victory in his 14th season at Southern Lehigh.
The Spartans are 6-0 and with a win over visiting Northwestern Lehigh Friday night would put themselves in position to claim the final Colonial League championship before a scheduling merger with the Schuylkill League changes the local landscape in 2020.
After playing at Dieruff and Bucknell, Toman began a trajectory that led him to a head coaching position.
“I started with Rich Sniscak at Parkland and went to two Eastern finals in three years,” Toman said. “Then I went with Jim Morgans at Salisbury for two years and stayed at Salisbury for three years with Frankie Lane. Then I went up to Northampton for two years and was a coordinator under Teko Johnson. I was looking for the right spot and Southern Lehigh opened up.”
Toman still thanks then superintendent Joseph Liberati and athletic director Don Harakal for believing in him and selecting him as a first-time coach.
“Deep down inside somewhere most people in the coaching realm want to eventually be a head coach,” Toman said. “Even when I was in college, I was always doodling plays like I was a coordinator. I guess I always wanted to be a head coach one day.”
Toman had enough confidence in his own ability that he surrounded himself with quality people over the years, guys who were either former head coaches or on their way to becoming them.
Chuck Sonon and Gene Legath have been on Toman’s staff. Current Salisbury coach Andy Cerco and Northampton offensive coordinator Mike Feifel have worked at Southern Lehigh over the years. Former Saucon Valley coach Phil Sams is a first-year member of Toman’s staff. Derek Bleiler, an Emmaus product, has been with the Spartans for many years. What are Toman’s strengths? “Everyone tells me I am super organized and detail-oriented,” he said. “I try to keep our practices down to the minute. I think I have a good relationship with the parents and kids. There are always people out there who are haters, but in general, we’ve developed a good relationship with the community.”
Toman played primarily offense at Dieruff and defense at Bucknell and said he learned something wherever he went. He also took something from each stop he made over 10 seasons as an assistant.
“I created a network where if I did get a head coaching job I could surround myself with quality coaches,” Toman said. “A lot of guys aspire to become a head coach but don’t realize the difficulty in putting a coaching staff together. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Southern Lehigh is 60-16 since the start of the 2013 season and has had just two losing seasons under Toman. They came in his first two seasons after he inherited a 1-9 program in 2006.
The Spartans shared league titles in 2013 and 2014, but have yet to win an outright Colonial crown or a District 11 championship.
The 2019 team could make history. “We have good kids, hard workers,” Toman said. “Not that every other team doesn’t do it, but these kids are in the weight room in the offseason doing what we’re asking them to do … stuff I’ve learned from Rich Sniscak and Jim Morgans.”
Earlier this season, John Toman earned his 100th career victory in his 14th season at Southern Lehigh.