Tony DiSalvo, who coached the St. Croix Central football team to the WIAA Division 4 state championship games each of the past three years and to the 2016 state championship, will not be coaching the Panthers this fall.

Panther defensive coordinator John Tackmann has been hired as the team’s new varsity coach.

That was a decision made by the St. Croix Central Board of Education at Monday’s board meeting. The school board voted unanimously to hire Tackmann, with no discussion on the subject.

DiSalvo retired from teaching on December 20, but wanted to continue as the Panthers’ football coach. It was decided to open up the varsity position for interviews. DiSalvo, Tackmann and offensive coordinator Ryan Berg were interviewed by a team of five that included district administrator Tim Widiker, high school principal Kurt Soderberg and athletic director Jason Koele. They informed the candidates of their decision on Friday, March 22, before Central’s spring break week.

Koele said there is a procedure in place for filling all coaching positions. Because DiSalvo is technically no longer a staff employee, the position was opened to internal and external candidates to make sure he could apply. Koele said Tackmann was the unanimous choice of the five people on the interview panel.

In the interview process, Koele said there were specifics that were being sought.

“We were looking for someone to carry on the tradition of the school and the community, someone who will effectively inspire the kids, someone who is detail oriented, someone with management skills,” Koele said. “All of the candidates have those traits. It wasn’t an easy decision. We had the interest of the kids, the longevity of the program to consider.”

Koele said the same procedure will be followed in filling the vacant boys’ basketball varsity coaching position. He said he’s hoping to have a new basketball coach in place by May 1.

Tackmann was appointed head coach after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2014. He joined the Panther staff in 2009.

Tackmann said he plans to continue directing the Panthers’ defense and that Berg will continue to run the offense.

“I’m excited to take over and keep moving the program in the right direction,” Tackmann said. “Our goal is to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got a pretty good system in place.

Tackmann said that he, Berg, Zach Turpin and Pat Hook have been together on the coaching staff since 2009, so he believes the changes in coaching responsibilities will be slight.

Tackmann has an extensive football resume. He graduated from Altoona High School in 2002. He attended Winona State University. He was initially a safety on the Winona football team. In the middle of his sophomore season, he was moved to starting linebacker. It was a natural fit. In his junior and senior seasons, Tackmann was a first team All-American selection after being the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Year both seasons.

That success earned him a tryout at the Minnesota Vikings training camp. Tackmann joked that he had the shortest NFL career ever. He pulled a hamstring in the first day of the camp and any chances of playing in the NFL were done. Tackmann did play one year of arena football.

Tackmann said he had offers to coach at the college level after finishing college, but said he always had a passion for teaching. He said he’s always wanted to lead a football program and he’s got a vision for his program.

“I want to see our teams continue the way we are now, to continue to compete for a Middle Border Conference title and hopefully to compete to get back to Camp Randall,” he said.

Over the past five seasons, the Panthers have been one of the most successful programs in the state. In those five seasons, the Panthers have a cumulative record of 56-9 under DiSalvo’s leadership.

DiSalvo was the head coach of the North Small School team at the 2018 WFCA All-Star Games. He selected Tackmann and Berg to be among his assistant coaches for that experience.

DiSalvo was named the Green Bay Packers High School Coach of the Week after Central’s win over Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau in 2016, as the Panthers marched to the state championship, the second in program history. The Panthers won the 2016 state title with a 49-28 win over River Valley.

DiSalvo is a graduate of Cumberland High School, where he and his father, Bucky, are both members of the school Athletic Hall of Fame. He’s a 1985 graduate of UW-River Falls. DiSalvo began his teaching career in Spring Valley. He moved to St. Croix Central in 1989, when he became an assistant coach. He was elevated to varsity coach in 2000.

After receiving word that he would not be returning to Central, DiSalvo agreed to accept a position as an assistant coach on the UW-River Falls coaching staff. DiSalvo declined the opportunity to comment on the situation.