Deon Candia, who guided Linden to its first state championship in 29 years, is stepping down as the school’s head football coach.
Candia made it official with the high school’s administration last Thursday and then made it public at the team’s annual football banquet Saturday night.
“I intend on going back to school,” said Candia, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from American International College. “I’ll be going for my doctorate degree.”
Candia was promoted to head coach in 2008 after serving as an assistant under Bucky McDonald in 2005 and 2006 and then for one year under Joe Stinson in 2007. Before that he was a middle school coach for one season.
“Last year I thought about it (stepping down), but loved the group that I had,” Candia said. “They were my kind of kids. I’m glad that we finished on the high note that we did.”
The 1991 Linden graduate, who played for McDonald in the late 1980s and 1990, led the Tigers to the 2014 North 2, Group 5 championship. It was the first time Linden won a sectional title in the playoff era – and only the second time total – since the Tigers captured North 2, Group 3 in 1985.
“I always wanted to get back to school,” Candia said. “I didn’t consider myself someone who was going to coach for 15 or 20 years.”
Candia’s record in his seven-season stint was 42-32 (.568), which included this past season’s Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division title with a perfect 7-0 league mark.
That was Linden’s first division title since the 1990s. Candia also guided the Tigers to playoff victories in three straight seasons which was a program first.
Linden made the playoffs that last three years of his seven-season stint.
“I fell in love with what I was doing in my hometown,” Candia said. “My goal was to get the program back on track and leave it in better shape than what it was when I started.”
Presently handling discipline – the in-school suspension program – at Linden, Candia will pursue a doctorate in administration, with an eye on becoming a vice principal.
Candia previously taught English at both Linden middle schools, McManus and Soehl.
“I may get back in the classroom to teach English until I get my credentials for vice principal or administration,” Candia said.
Candia’s master’s degree is in elementary education and his undergraduate degree is in criminal justice.
“I want to stay in Linden,” Candia said.
As for his coaching football, that is not in the foreseeable future.
“In staff we have several candidates that would be good,” Candia said of his possible replacement. “In a perfect world you would want to continue the ball rolling with people that the players are familiar with.”
Candia’s first two teams at Linden finished .500 at 5-5. Then his 2010 squad became the first team in North 2, Group 4 not to have enough power points to qualify for the playoffs with a 6-2 record at the cutoff date. The Tigers finished 7-3 that season.
Two years later – in the first season that the NJSIAA allowed teams with records under .500 to qualify – the Tigers reached the North 2, Group 4 semifinals. In 2013 Linden reached another sectional semifinal, that year in North 2, Group 5 for the first time.
Linden’s first loss in a 10-2 season last fall was at Elizabeth after a 7-0 start. The Tigers went on to defeat the Minutemen in the North 2, Group 5 final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford by the score of 27-20.
Standout senior Juwan Dolbrice scored the game-winning touchdown on a kickoff return with just over a minute left and then prevented a possible overtime scenario by coming up with a huge interception in the end zone to ice the long-awaited victory.
“Juwan had the confidence, the maturity and the experience,” Candia said. “He kept things together, especially on the field. He knew what needed to be done.
“Linden football was consistent, hard-fought and, obviously, had its ups and downs during my time. I believe we had the tools and we stuck to a formula that worked.”
DEON CANDIA RECORD AT LINDEN:
2014: (10-2) – won North 2, Group 5 championship
and Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division (7-0)
2013: (7-4) – reached North 2, Group 5 semifinals
2012: (4-7) – reached North 2, Group 4 semifinals
TOTAL: 42-32 (.568)