We’re always looking for the next great sports debate, something fresh to discuss and deliberate, a subject or list invoking contemplation and cross-examination.
We believe we’ve devised one: The 50 greatest coaches in bay area history.
Yep, we went there. The journey was as difficult as one might imagine.
This wasn’t some list we slapped together over lunch. Over the last couple of months, a committee of current and former Tampa Bay Times sports reporters gathered twice in person, and deliberated extensively via phone and e-mail, before settling on our 50 (and some committee members remain unsettled).
We limited our discussion only to head coaches or managers at the prep, college or pro level (sorry, Little League and AAU coaches). Moreover, we considered only a coach’s accomplishments in the bay area.
We placed a big emphasis on championships, while also considering program influence (those who “changed the culture” at a place) and historical impact. Career longevity was considered, but wasn’t a huge criteria. You’ll discover many longtime coaches who fell shy of our top 50, mainly because they never won a title at the highest level.
Hey, there was room for only 50. Let the debate rage until kickoff, or longer.
1. Russ Cozart
School: Brandon | Sport: Wrestling
In the 2008 ESPN-produced documentary The Streak, Brandon High wrestling coach Russ Cozart recalls the vote of confidence — or perhaps, ultimatum — school administrators gave him upon his hiring in 1980.
“They said, ‘We just want you to know we’re behind you, win or tie,’ ” Cozart says.
By then, the Eagles’ dual-match win streak — beginning in 1973 under previous coach Jim Graves — had reached 74 matches. By entrusting its guardianship to Cozart, the school essentially was putting a behemoth in the hands of a born underdog
As a 4-foot-11, 85-pound freshman at Upland High in southern California, Cozart had gravitated to wrestling because the football coaches at Upland wouldn’t even let him try out. Despite surrendering 13 pounds, he won a starting spot in the 98-pound division, and became captivated by the sport.
A half-century later, he’s a heavyweight, in many regards: the most accomplished high school coach in Florida history, and the top coach — any sport — the bay area has ever known.
“I don’t know of anybody on Earth, including myself, who loves the sport of wrestling and cares about the sport more than him,” said Bloomingdale coach Dennis Kitko, who won three individual state titles for Cozart in the early 1990s.
“He’s still going full strength at it. Just his absolute love of being around it, not just coaching but being in that atmosphere, is surpassed by nobody.”
Behind Cozart, still coaching and teaching at Brandon at 64, the Eagles’ streak reached nearly 35 years and 459 consecutive matches. He’ll enter the 2018-19 season with 27 team state championships and 119 individual titlists. One of his wrestlers (Franklin Gomez) became an Olympian.
When Homestead South Dade stunned the Eagles, 32-28, in the finals of the “Beat the Streak” Tournament in Brandon’s gym on Jan. 5, 2008, the longest high school win streak of any school (any sport) in the country ended.
To keep himself conditioned and glean new techniques, Cozart — who wrestled at the University of Alabama in the 1970s — competed in senior events until his early 50s, winning seven Veterans World Championship titles. He only stopped because he feared an injury at his age ultimately could impede his ability to coach.
“What I remember is him training for his senior world titles,” said former Cozart assistant Mark Church, an Eagles 112-pound state champ in 1995. “This guy’s out running 6 miles a day, running at lunch time. You’re just trying to keep up back then.”
Thing was, no one could keep up. Certainly no one in the county, nor the state.
“(Cozart) loves the sport of wrestling like no one else. When you love your job as much as he does, it’s not work. I think he could go ’til he’s 90, to be honest with you,” Kitko said.
2. Joe Maddon
Team: Tampa Bay Rays | Sport: Baseball
Maddon was hired by the Rays’ new ownership and front office in November 2005 to change not just the team’s abysmal performance on the field but the culture in the clubhouse and throughout the organization.
He managed pretty well.
After a shaky first two seasons of experimenting, losing 101 and 96 games, Maddon led the Rays on a remarkable run, to a stunning American League East title and a World Series berth in 2008, and four trips to the playoffs in a six-year window overall.
What made it more remarkable was that he did much of it his way.
He flaunted baseball convention in limiting batting practice and travel day dress codes. He implemented innovative defensive shifts and maximized platoon advantages and positionally versatile players provided by the front office. He spoke in big words and on non-baseball topics such as philosophy, wine, cycling, literature and rock music.
And he searched constantly for ways to put his players in the best position to succeed, whether it was making motivational comments; breaking up the routine by bringing in a menagerie of pets (including a 20-foot snake), magicians and musicians; and organizing themed dress-up road trips.
He showed he knew a little bit about baseball, too, often making unconventional moves that worked out, winning two American League manager of the year awards in leading the Rays to a 754-705 record over nine seasons.
3. Tony Dungy
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Sport: Football
If the lone criterion for this list was a coach’s ability to change a culture, this unassuming Midwesterner known for defense and deep-seated faith would be No. 1.
Dungy took over a Bucs team that had 13 straight losing seasons, and led it to the playoffs four times in five years to set up a Super Bowl season. Sixteen years after being fired, Dungy still calls Tampa home, and it’s telling that he’s in the Bucs’ Ring of Honor for a run that still cost him his job.
Consider: Dungy has the best winning percentage of any coach in Bucs history (54-42, .556 in the regular season), and he had 31 more wins and 15 fewer losses in his time with the Colts. His brief NFL career let him play for Chuck Noll with the 1970s Steelers in their prime, and he was an NFL assistant at 25, a coordinator at 28, then took over the Bucs at 40.
His “Tampa Two” defense — with two Hall of Famers in Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp and potentially two more in John Lynch and Ronde Barber — gave Tampa Bay its best sustained run of postseason success.
He’s still a respected voice — in football, in a decade as a television analyst, and in life, as a noted author who keeps busy as a father, with 10 children (seven adopted) with wife Lauren. As a leader, Dungy continues to prove himself as one of the best the area has known.
4. John Tortorella
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning | Sport: Hockey
Remember him, for he was the lion tamer and the lion. John Robert Tortorella, the indomitable Johnny Torts, was the firebrand behind the Lightning’s rise from nowhere to the top of hockey, capped by its Stanley Cup win in 2004.
Tortorella has seemed a loud, disappointing caricature at times since those days, but he was beyond real when he took over the Lightning in the middle of the 2000-01 season, when the franchise represented the dregs of hockey.
That was the talk.
John Tortorella shut yaps. In a virtuoso performance, he galvanized young stars and seasoned veterans into the passion that carried them to new heights. Whether it was tough love for Vinny Lecavalier or no love at all, or skating his entire team into the ground in training camp, Tortorella left no doubt where he stood, which was behind a team out to stand alone.
“We were proving to the hockey world who we were and John was leading the charge,” said Dave Andreychuk, captain of the Cup winner. “I respect that guy a hell of a lot for pushing us the way he did and just inspiring us near the end. No way we win without that man.”
Tortorella won 239 games as Lightning coach before things regressed, but he’ll be remembered most for the 46 he won during the 2003-04 season and the 16 victories in the forced march to the Cup.
5. Robert Weiner
School: Plant | Sport: Football
The highest-ranked prep football coach on our list never played the sport. When Plant hired Weiner to resuscitate its once-proud program in 2004, he arrived with nary a battle scar or bum knee. But the prerequisites that mattered — smarts, compassion, servanthood and motivational chops — brandished themselves immediately.
By Weiner’s second season, Plant finished 9-3 for its first winning season in 13 years. By his third, the Panthers were undefeated Class 4A state champs. They’ve won three more state crowns since. Presiding over this unprecedented run (no other bay area public school has won more than two state titles) is a former Jesuit High tennis player, football manager and student body president with an insatiable love of literature and poetry.
“He could’ve done anything he wanted to do with his life,” longtime Plant defensive assistant (and fellow Jesuit alumnus) John Few said. “He could’ve been a doctor, lawyer, whatever. But he loved the English language.”
Weiner parlayed that passion into a job as an English teacher and football assistant at Jesuit, where he absorbed all he could about football from former Tigers coaches Bill Minahan and Dominick Ciao. Many, in fact, pegged Weiner to ultimately replace Ciao. Fate had other plans, steering him 5 miles down Himes Avenue instead. It remains the only time Weiner’s career has trended southward.
Four state crowns, 157 victories and 13 district titles later, he remains as indefatigable as ever.
6. Jon Gruden
Team: Buccaneers | Sport: Football
Of all the football coaches to make a stop in the area, only one can boast the image still easily evoked of Gruden, smiling proudly with the Lombardi Trophy hoisted high, having brought a Super Bowl championship to Tampa Bay.
That, all by itself, is a strong resume line. The Bucs have played 41 seasons, with a grand total of six playoff wins, but three of them came in a span of 15 days in January 2003, with Gruden cementing a place in NFL history for an otherwise unremarkable franchise.
Tony Dungy raised the expectations for the Bucs to become a consistent playoff team, but it was Gruden that executed that elusive final step, beating his old team (the Raiders) and doing it resoundingly, 48-21. No matter what the score is on a given Sunday, no matter what the record is at any point in any season, Bucs fans will always have that moment.
7. Randy Dagostino
School: Berkeley Prep | Sport: Volleyball
A third baseman for the University of Illinois at Chicago and longsuffering Cubs fan, Dagostino’s life changed forever when he enrolled in a volleyball course popular among student-athletes. Intrigued by the high level of teamwork the sport demanded, the native of Chicago’s north side instantly became hooked.
Today, he’s recognized as one of its greatest coaches. In a glistening 30-year career at Berkeley Prep (1983-2011, 2016), Dagostino collected 849 wins and 15 state titles while developing a nationally hailed club program (Tampa Bay Juniors) he built from scratch.
His team’s annual clashes with crosstown rival Tampa Prep became must-see events for their intensity, if not their bizarre coaching dynamic.
Terrapins coach Carol Chalu and Dagostino were married for more than a decade before divorcing in 1984. The Terrapins-Bucs showdowns seemingly had the potential to become ugly. They never did. The two seemed to make each other better, combining for 27 state championships. Today, both are in the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
“It was like playing against your best friend,” said John Coup, said former Berkeley Prep coach John Coup, who worked for both Chalu and Dagostino. “Talk about healthy, that was a very healthy relationship they had — and rivalry.”
8. Dan Wright
School: Lakewood | Sport: Boys basketball
Northeast girls basketball coach Will White took a sports and American history class years ago as a graduate student at USF. One of White’s assignments was to do a research paper on any topic in sports. He chose Wright.
“I wanted to do something local and personal,” said White, who coached Boca Ciega’s girls to three final four trips before taking over the Vikings. “He inspired me the way he gave back to the community and worked hard for his kids.”
Everything about Wright has a sharp ring of history. He played at Gibbs from 1969-72 during the height of integration. He coached his first game at Lakewood the year America celebrated its bicentennial. And his 35-year tenure outlasted five presidents.
Wright took over a struggling Spartans program that had gone 1-23 in 1975, the lone win coming via forfeit. He turned Lakewood into a juggernaut with his brand of up-tempo basketball. His teams pressed and trapped and ran up and down the court. They also won.
Wright, who retired in 2011, won 684 games and led the Spartans to state titles in 2002 and ’05. The school’s gymnasium is named after him.
“If Dan Wright wanted to coach St. Petersburg, I would step down and become an assistant the next day. That’s how much respect I have for the man,” said St. Pete coach Chris Blackwell, who played for Wright from 1982-84 and was an assistant with the Spartans from 1991-2002.
9. Carol Chalu
School: Tampa Prep | Sport: Volleyball
Chalu — then Carol Dagostino — arrived in the area from Chicago in the late 1970s with then-husband Randy, and essentially helped kick-start a Tampa Prep athletic program in its crawling stage.
Carol led the ’77 Terrapin girls basketball team to a Class A state crown, even as she and her husband were designing the framework of a veritable volleyball steamroller. Tampa Prep’s first volleyball state title came in ’80.
A year later, Randy left to become athletic director and baseball coach (and eventually volleyball coach) at Berkeley Prep. Carol remained with the Terrapins and became the school’s first sports legend.
In 21 years as Terrapins volleyball coach, she compiled a 602-100 record, won 12 state titles and finished as runnerup on two other occasions. Defying the prototypical volleyball roster, her teams atoned for their lack of height with heart, often employing middle blockers well under 6-foot and emphasizing defense.
“Her communication was incredible,” said John Coup, a Chalu assistant for part of the ’90s who would become coach at Berkeley Prep. “Anybody can take a great athlete and make them into a player. She had the ability to take kids who weren’t very athletic, weren’t very tall — who really couldn’t walk and chew gum — and make them into great volleyball players. And great people.”
She and Dagostino divorced in the early ’80s, but the two remained amicable, building a Bucs-Terrapins volleyball rivalry that remains one of the most stirring on the local prep sports landscape. For 20 consecutive seasons (1980-99), either Berkeley or Tampa Prep — or sometimes both — won a state title.
10. Jody Moore
School: Canterbury | Sport: Softball
Hired in 2006 as Canterbury was about to enter district play, Moore barely had enough players to field a varsity squad, much less one in middle school. The former Kissimmee Osceola standout placed the fortunes of her new team in a promising yet inexperienced group of sixth-graders, some of whom had never played softball.
Canterbury won a district title that year — and has been to the playoffs every year since. Postseason berths were not enough. Under Moore’s tutelage, the Crusaders became state title contenders.
In 2008, Canterbury made the state semifinals for the first time. That started a run of eight semifinal appearances in the past 11 seasons. Canterbury has won four state titles, the most among local high school programs.
“Playing for Coach Moore was a privilege that I appreciate much more now than I did while I was still in high school, and she deserves to be recognized for her great impact on our lives,” said Taylor Bump, a former all-state player for the Crusaders who is now at Michigan.
11. Joe Urso
School: University of Tampa | Sport: Baseball
Though UT’s list of baseball coaches may be one of the area’s most revered roll calls, Urso has at least 500 more wins more than any of his predecessors. A 5-foot-5 second baseman on Plant’s 1988 state title team, he accepted a scholarship offer from UT when Division I-A programs ignored him, and evolved into a four-year starter. Roughly a decade later, Urso returned to his alma mater, where he has compiled a 786-227-1 record (.775 winning percentage) with four national titles in 18 seasons. Many of his rosters have been built with D-I and junior college transfers, who typically arrive with chips on their shoulders. Sort of like their coach.
12. Brent Haley
School: Largo | Sports: Cross country, track
In an area teeming with ultra-successful track/distance running coaches, Haley’s resume outshines them all. A member of no fewer than three halls of fame, Haley coached 10 boys state championship cross country teams, five runner-up squads and four individual state champions from 1970-87. In that same span, he helped develop eight individual state track champs. Toss in 17 total conference and 16 district crowns, and Haley has arguably the most impressive bio — in terms of titles won — on this list.
13. Jon Cooper
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning | Sport: Hockey
He was never a rail splitter, but Cooper did start out as a lawyer. The most famous graduate in the history of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., served as a public defender for 11 years. He still is looking to win one with his biggest client. This past season, Cooper and the Lightning came close again, reaching the Eastern Conference Final. Cooper, whose quick mind and quicker wit and strong jaw (oh, that chewing gum) have been his Lightning trademark, has guided Tampa Bay to the playoffs in four of his five full seasons and to the conference final three of the past four seasons. Cooper is the Lightning’s winningest coach, having passed John Tortorella last March. The Lightning won 54 times last season, a club record. And Cooper has 100 more wins than losses in his NHL career (243-143-40).
14. Sean Callahan
School: Armwood | Sport: Football
Callahan ‘s transformation of the Seffner program from doormat to dynasty remains staggering. Armwood’s 1995 and ’96 teams won a combined 18 games. In 2003, the Hawks won the first of consecutive state titles, becoming the first Hillsborough County public school to win a state crown in 34 years. He retired after the 2016 season with a 233-105 record in 27 years. ”I think Coach Callahan absolutely was one of the standard bearers,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said.
15. John Crumbley
Schools: Jesuit, Steinbrenner | Sport: Baseball
A Leto High and University of Tampa alumnus, Crumbley makes our top 15 for winning state titles at two strikingly different programs: a private school steeped in tradition, and a public school bereft of it. In 22 seasons at Jesuit, Crumbley’s clubs won 575 games, made 11 trips to the final four and captured three Class 4A state titles (1994, ’97, 2000). Then, as if to quell those who attributed his success to Jesuit’s tradition, resources and zone-free talent base, Crumbley started Steinbrenner’s program from scratch in 2010 and won a Class 8A state crown only six years later.
16. Bobby Ennis
School: Leto | Sport: Track/cross country
A high jumper at Plant High (who never ran at any level), Ennis absorbed all the knowledge he could muster on cross country, then built a west Tampa dynasty. In 21 seasons, Ennis led the “Long Red Row” (by which Leto CC came to be known and feared) to 20 state meets, seven state championships and 17 consecutive district titles. Tack on a 1979 boys decathlon state title at Leto, and Ennis’ resume has earned him induction into at least three halls of fame.
17. John McKay
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Sport: Football
After winning four national championships at USC, McKay’s 44-88-1 record in nine seasons with the Bucs might not look that impressive. Numbers hardly tell the story. The expansion Bucs opened 0-26, quickly becoming the butt of jokes. Two years later, the Bucs were 10 points away from a Super Bowl berth. “Coach McKay took a lot of guff,” said former Bucs linebacker Richard Wood, who played for McKay at USC. “But Coach McKay hung tough. He definitely had a plan and he definitely did it his way.” The 1979 Bucs were the franchise’s first postseason team, winning the NFC Central Division and defeating the Eagles in the playoffs. McKay followed with playoff teams in ’81 and ’82.
18. Chris Catanach
School: University of Tampa | Sport: Volleyball
Believed to be the only 1,000-game winner on this list, Catanach quietly has built — and presided over — a Division II volleyball dynasty. In 34 seasons, he has amassed a 1,040-196 record (.841 win percentage) with two national titles, four runnerup finishes, 32 NCAA Tournament trips and 25 Sunshine State Conference titles. His next losing season at UT will be his first.
19. Jim Harte
Schools: St. Petersburg Catholic, Dixie Hollins, CCC, Carrollwood Day | Sport: Soccer
No soccer coach in the area has a better resume than Harte. He completed his 36th year as a high school coach, with most of his success coming at Clearwater Central Catholic. He won six state championships while coaching the Marauders, the first of which was 1989. That is tied for the most titles in state history. He also has three state runner-ups, and all three of those losses came in overtime. His overall record is 554-259-100. He is 15-5 in state final four games and is 52-15 overall in the postseason. Harte recently completed his sixth season at Carrollwood Day, where the Patriots won a district championship in 2018 and advanced to the region final.
20. Bob Bauman
School: Jesuit, Chamberlain | Sport: Boys soccer
Before becoming a Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge in 2014, Bauman presided over a prep soccer juggernaut. In 26 seasons, his Tigers teams won 24 district titles, reached 15 final fours and won five state championships. His last title team, the 2001 club (30-2), also finished first in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. Bauman exited with a 571-124-69 record at Jesuit — a staggering .747 win percentage.
21. Roy Harrison
School: Plant | Sport: Girls cross country/track
For all of its football glory, Plant’s most successful sports team typically competes not on Friday nights, but Saturday mornings. Behind Harrison, still coaxing perspiration and perseverance out of his kids at 62, Plant has won 10 team state titles (tied for the state record) and produced seven state individual champs (also tied for a state record). Perhaps more astounding: Harrison’s squad has won 20 district titles, and has qualified for the state meet in 30 of the last 31 years.
22. Lisa Bitting
Schools: Dixie Hollins, St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor University | Sport: Swimming
A former state champion swimmer at Seminole (and collegiate swimmer at Furman), Bitting molded Dixie Hollins and St. Pete into respectable programs before building a juggernaut at PHU. Her Hurricanes boys teams have won three state titles (2008, ’11 and ’13) and earned two runner-up finishes, while her girls squad earned a top-five finish at the Class 4A meet last November. Additionally, the PHU boys had a nine-year dual-meet streak on her watch.
23. Tim Marcum
Team: Tampa Bay Storm | Sport: Football
The most successful coach — and arguably greatest ambassador — in Arena Football League history, Marcum won three of his seven AFL championships with the Storm (1995-96, 2003), and led Tampa Bay to the ArenaBowl on two other occasions. Including playoffs, he compiled a 156-87 mark with the Storm, reaching the postseason in 13 of his 15 seasons. He was forced to resign just before the ’11 season for allegedly sending pornographic and racist emails (he maintained he did nothing wrong), and died after a lengthy illness in December ’13.
24. Ernie Chatman
Schools: Hernando, Hernando Christian, Nature Coast, Saint Leo | Sports: Various
Few will argue that Chatman, a marathoner who died unexpectedly at age 66 two summers ago, remains the greatest coach in Hernando County history. Darn near every team he touched in a career spanning more than four decades and at least a half-dozen sports seemed to flourish. His Leopards boys cross country teams won a state title (in 1997) and finished as runners-up twice. His 1993 HHS baseball team won 30 games, and his softball teams (at HHS and Hernando Christian) reached the state tournament a combined five times. Even his one season as baseball coach at Saint Leo elicited prosperity (school-record 46 wins).
25. Jim Leavitt
School: USF | Sport: Football
Though his legacy will forever be tarnished by his ugly dismissal (for allegedly striking a player), Leavitt will remain a Fowler Avenue icon for taking USF football from nonexistent to nationally ranked in barely more than a decade. The literal architect of the program whose first office was a trailer, Leavitt used his defensive chops and volcanic intensity to engineer the Bulls’ meteoric rise through the college stratosphere. By the end of the program’s first decade, USF already had appeared in two bowl games. In Year 11, the Bulls knocked off three ranked opponents (Auburn, North Carolina, West Virginia) in a 21-day span en route to earning the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings. It would represent the pinnacle of the Leavitt era (95-57, five bowls), which ended abruptly in 2009.
26. Pete Mulry
Schools: Tampa Catholic, University of Tampa | Sport: Baseball
When Tampa Catholic built a prep baseball dynasty through the 1970s, it had a distinct style — the Mulry Way. Mulry demanded discipline, situational awareness and unparalleled fitness, so much so that new players often wondered if they were trying out for track instead of baseball. In 10 TC seasons, Mulry’s teams were 329-39, capturing state championships in 1968, ’71, ’73 and ’76. The ’73 Crusaders, who won 37 games and had All-American pitcher Manuel Seoane, were named mythical national champions. Mulry moved to UT from ’78-82, but his biggest mark was left at TC.
27. Todd Vaughan
School: Clearwater Central Catholic | Sport: Baseball
A shortstop on the Marauders’ 1979 state championship team, Vaughan has tacked on two more titles (2002, ’07) in a sparkling 30-year coaching career at CCC. Eighteen of his teams have reached the playoffs, and seven have made the final four. His sprawling list of distinguished alumni includes big-league pitchers Ryan Webb and Ryan Weber, and Clearwater Threshers manager Shawn Williams. He’ll enter season No. 31 next year with a career record of 560-272.
28. Bobby Diez
School: Chamberlain | Sport: Softball
With a gravelly timbre as deep as his devotion to his players, Diez has become an iconic figure on the prep softball landscape. A 600-game winner still fiery as ever at 70, Diez has reached the final four nine times, winning state titles in 2003 and ’12. Only once in this millennium (2010) has his team failed to reach the state playoffs. “We know that if he’s yelling at you then he cares about you,” Chiefs shortstop Hope Hernandez said two springs ago. “So we know that he cares about all of us very, very much.”
29. Bill Shaffer
School: Jesuit/Academy of the Holy Names | Sport: Swimming
A Chamberlain graduate (class of 1984), Shaffer went on to swim for Temple. He came back to the area to work as a financial advisor, but couldn’t give up the sport. In 1996, he took over at Jesuit. The Tigers already had a solid program, but Shaffer turned them into contenders. Jesuit was the Class 2A state runnerup in 2014 and ’15 and won the title last year. In 2008, Shaffer added coaching duties at Academy of the Holy Names, inheriting the program from Mara Schultz, who was battling breast cancer and died in 2010. Shaffer helped the Jaguars maintain their level of excellence with numerous place-winners. Holy Names finished as 2A state runnerup each of the past two seasons.
30. Tom Varn
School: Hernando | Sports: Various
Varn, who passed away in 1993, was one of those coaches so popular and successful, he could’ve been appointed mayor in his community. In ’83, he was — by the Brooksville City Council. A World War II veteran who adhered to his faith and fundamentals (in that order), Varn hailed from an era when neither coaches nor players specialized in one sport. He collected nearly 400 wins and one state title (in ’67) as Hernando baseball coach, guided the slow-pitch softball team to a state crown in ’84, and went 67-20-2 in nine football seasons (1948-56).
31. Billy Turner
School: Chamberlain, Hillsborough | Sport: Football
In some ways, this father of eight was a paradox with a Polk County drawl. Shamelessly old-school philosophically, Turner remained innovative schematically until his final season, in which his 2008 Chamberlain team went 11-2 and captured the program’s 10th consecutive playoff berth. His 254 victories over 38 seasons (highlighted by a berth in the Class 5A state title game in ’01) remain a bay area prep football record. While that mark likely will be eclipsed this season, many say Turner’s unbridled compassion for kids won’t. “I don’t care if I catch him or not in terms of wins,” said current Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, a former Turner pupil and assistant who has 252 career victories. “I’ll never be the guy that Billy was.”
32. John Planamenta
School: East Lake, Palm Harbor University | Sport: Girls soccer
Before resigning in 2017 to devote more time to his family, Planamenta built one of the most impressive prep soccer coaching resumes in bay area history. In 21 total seasons, he compiled a 347-53 record, winning three state titles (2006, ’09, ’10) and making six other final four appearances in 14 seasons as PHU coach. Between 2005-10, a Planamenta squad was playing in a state title match. Additionally, his teams captured nine conference championships, 15 district titles and eight region crowns.
33. Frank Vining
Schools: East Bay, Hillsborough, Brandon | Sports: Basketball, volleyball
For sheer versatility, it would be difficult to match Vining’s resume. He began with boys basketball at East Bay and Hillsborough, where he took each school to the final four. Moving to Brandon, he led the volleyball program from 1978-2002, compiling a 424-93 with a pair of undefeated state championship teams (after having no background in playing or coaching volleyball). He coached one season of girls basketball (a district championship) before becoming coach of the Eagles boys. With players such as Toney Mack and Dwayne Schintzius, Vining guided the Eagles to a 502-109 mark, including final four appearances in 1984 and ’85.
34. Freddie Dyles
School: Gibbs | Sport: Boys basketball
Until being surpassed by one of his former players (Dan Wright) in 2010, Dyles was Pinellas County’s winningest boys basketball coach with 674 career victories. In a three-decade career that began in the segregation era, Dyles orchestrated a high-pressure, high-octane style that drew crowds of close to 10,000 in the Gladiators’ heyday. Dyles, who passed away in 1999, led Gibbs to a black-school state title in 1966, and FHSAA state crowns in ’67 (Class 2A) and ’69 (1A).
35. Renaldo Garcia
Schools: Sickles, Berkeley Prep | Sport: Boys basketball
A crafty guard who played in both a state tournament (for Tampa Catholic) and NCAA Tournament (for Florida), Garcia took over Sickles’ fledgling program at the turn of the millennium and molded it into an area force. Before stepping away to take the same job at Berkeley Prep, Garcia compiled a 332-104 record with 13 playoff berths in 17 seasons. The capper, of course, was a Class 8A state title in 2017, Hillsborough County’s first public-school state boys hoops crown in 35 years.
36. Angela Slater
Schools: Brandon, Riverview | Sport: Softball
Two years after her death from cancer at 53, Slater’s influence remains prevalent from Plant High to Plant City. In 31 seasons, Slater — a USF alumnus — won more than 500 games and created a legion of disciples. She started Riverview’s program from scratch in 1996 and won the first of two state titles only four years later. Prior to that, she coached at Brandon for a decade, reaching the state final in ’89. “I’d have to say she is one of the main reasons I got into coaching,” said Newsome coach Autumn Dunn, who played for Slater at Brandon and guided the Wolves to the Class 8A state title in ’15. “She just has such a respect for the game and taught us so much about softball and a lot of life.”
37. Bill Minahan
School: Jesuit | Sport: Football
In two decades, Minahan had a 132-78-2 record with the Tigers. His team made history when it became the first Hillsborough County program to capture a state playoff championship, defeating Lakeland Kathleen 39-25 at Tampa Stadium in the 1968 Class A final at Tampa Stadium. After receiving a life-saving kidney transplant in 1986, “Wild Bill” utilized the second chance by tirelessly promoting organ donations with the same enthusiasm he brought to the sideline and practice field. Until his death at age 84 in 2013, Minahan’s personal mission was to lead a full life while helping others. Each year, he held a luncheon to raise money for the LifeLink Legacy Fund, which assisted needy organ recipients with medications and transportation. ”I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years and I’ve never seen anyone like him,” LifeLink nurse Marge Murphy once said. “He is the most dynamic cheerleader. He gets into the persona of a coach and riles up the group.”
38. Frank Permuy
Schools: Gaither, Leto, Tampa Catholic, University of Tampa | Sport: Baseball
Kevin Cash’s high school skipper retired in 2014 with a coaching resume that includes 610 high school wins and a state championship. Two years after winning a state crown at Tampa Catholic in 1982, Permuy started the program at Gaither and led it to 16 playoff berths and a final four over 31 seasons. Tack on a five-year stint at the University of Tampa in the 1970s (95-80), and Permuy won more than 700 games at the local prep and college levels. Today, he’s a member of no fewer than four halls of fame.
39. William Bethel
School: Middleton | Sports: Football, boys basketball, baseball
A valid argument could be made for Bethel (who died in 2001) as the greatest coach in Hillsborough County prep history. Because he coached in the segregation era, he and his teams were robbed of some of the glory they otherwise might have attained. Nonetheless, his record over a quarter-century is staggering: 551-88 in basketball, 146-72 in football. Most records for the Florida Interscholastic Athletic Association (the FHSAA of all-black schools) were abolished when segregation ended, but Bethel led Middleton to at least six FIAA state basketball titles and one football crown. Today, Middleton’s gym is named in his honor, and the Tampa Bay Basketball Coaches Association annually presents the William Bethel Award to the coach who has gotten the most out of his talent and is respected by his peers.
40. Joe Fenlon
School: Tampa Prep | Sport: Boys basketball
A lanky, bespectacled Midwesterner, Fenlon arrived at Tampa Prep in 1982 intending the Terrapins job to be a brief stopover en route to his dream gig at Notre Dame. The Irish never beckoned, but local immortality did. Entering his 36th season at the private school along the Hillsborough River, Fenlon is the winningest prep basketball coach in bay area history (747-298). With nine state tournament appearances, his program averages a final four berth every four years, and 21 of his players have competed at the Division I level. After a series of heartbreaking state tourney defeats, Fenlon’s 2012 squad gave him his first (and to date, only) state crown.
41. Necole Tunsil
School: Lakewood | Sport: Girls basketball
The veritable matriarch of Lakewood athletics, Tunsil has the rare distinction of leading her alma mater to a state title as both a player (1989) and coach (2011). Since taking over the Spartans girls hoops program in 2004, Tunsil never has experienced a losing season, leading Lakewood to 12 playoff berths, two state runner-up finishes and the ’11 title. Last fall, she added the title of Spartans swim coach when no one else could be found to run the program. Her squad finished a respectable sixth in an 11-team district meet.
42. Landy Faedo
School: Alonso, Leto | Sport: Baseball
The only coach in Alonso’s 17-year history, Faedo hasn’t had a losing season since his inaugural team won only seven games. On his watch, Alonso has earned nine playoff berths (going 23-7 in the postseason), and has reached the state tournament four times, winning titles in 2009 and ’11. Detractors will note Jose Fernandez (the Marlins ace killed in a 2016 boat accident) was a key cog on both of those championship clubs, but Faedo’s program has produced three other players drafted in the first 11 rounds. He cut his head coaching teeth with a four-season stint at Leto, leading the ’01 Falcons to the program’s first postseason in 15 years.
43. Jim Graves
School: Brandon | Sport: Wrestling
A Mississippi native with no prior experience as a wrestler or wrestling coach, Graves took over Brandon’s program when no one else would in 1971, and promptly went 3-10. Educating himself via books, clinics and his own wrestlers, he led his second Eagles team to a 12-1 mark. By Year Three, Brandon was 12-0-1 and the greatest streak in prep sports history — 459 consecutive dual-match triumphs — was underway. By the time Graves handed the program over to Russ Cozart in 1980, the Eagles’ streak had reached 74 matches, complemented by the program’s first state title in 1977. It was the first time a school outside the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area won a state crown. “He was the ground-breaker and he was the leader,” Cozart said. “There is not enough credit for him.”
44. Marcelino “Chelo” Huerta
School: University of Tampa | Sport: Football
The son of Spanish immigrants, Huerta was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 for his 104-53-2 mark in 16 seasons, which included a 63-37-2 mark in nine years at UT. During his tenure in Tampa, nine of his players were named Little College All-Americans. “I’m more like Chelo than I am the Bear (Bryant),” former FSU coach Bobby Bowden once said. “Short and scrappy. Sort of an underdog. Chelo always put a smile on my face.” Huerta played at Hillsborough High, then the University of Florida, before becoming a coach. With the Spartans (1952-61), he became the nation’s youngest head football coach/athletic director at age 28, and guided UT to a pair of Cigar Bowl victories. Huerta parlayed his Spartan success into jobs at Wichita State and Parsons College, where his personality became legendary.
45. Earl Garcia
Schools: Hillsborough, Gaither, Boca Ciega | Sport: Football
For the better part of a quarter-century, Hillsborough County public-school prep football wallowed in mediocrity, failing to win a state title or even reach a state championship game as nearby powers (Lakeland, Manatee) flourished. Garcia’s 1996 Hillsborough High team shattered that gridiron glass ceiling, going 13-2 and reaching the Class 6A state final, where it fell to Miami Carol City. While a state crown still eludes Garcia, his 1996 squad — and his indefatigable staff — essentially set the bar for the county, ushering in its most prosperous prep football era. Still going strong in his mid-60s, Garcia enters the ’18 season with 252 career victories, two shy of the county record held by one of his mentors, Billy Turner.
46. Abe Brown
School: Blake | Sport: Football
Brown was a longtime Blake and Middleton assistant before becoming Blake’s head coach in 1966. From there, things took off. He built the Yellow Jackets into a dynamic program that captured the 1969 Class A state championship in the final year of full segregation. After that, it was never exactly the same. Just before the 1970 season began, a man walked across Blake’s practice field with a clipboard and began reading off names. Those players left the field and headed to other schools. Blake’s reigning state champion squad, which had a 50-man roster, was left with 18 players in a matter of moments. Blake (and rival Middleton) would close at the end of the 1970-71 school year. Later, Brown became an educator and a pastor. After reading about a former player who had been charged with murder — and feeling devastated about that news — he began visiting prisons and developed a prison ministry. Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy picked up on Brown’s concept and expanded the ministry. ”It’s one thing to help people who can help you, but Rev. Brown made it his mission to help people who may not ever be able to help him,” Dungy said. “And that was the lesson he taught me.”
47. Ken Eriksen
School: USF | Sport: Softball
At his current clip, this USF alumnus will reach career victory No. 1,000 late in the 2020 or early in the ’21 season. A softball savant who has bucked convention (i.e. replacing pitchers in mid-batter) for 22 seasons, Eriksen has led the Bulls to 13 NCAA Tournaments and the 2012 College World Series. He’ll enter the ’19 season with a 934-483-1 record, not counting all his triumphs in international play. Eriksen remains a strong candidate to coach the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.
48. Steve Spurrier
Team: Tampa Bay Bandits | Sport: Football
Before he became the Head Ball Coach in Gainesville and changed the arc of SEC football history, Spurrier was a bay area delight with his first head-coaching job. Remember “Bandit Ball?” That’s what they played for three seasons at Tampa Stadium when Spurrier put his new-era fingerprints all over the Bandits of the fledgling United States Football League (1983-85). It was constant no-huddle (when that was a radical concept). It was flea-flicker passes off double reverses. It was John Reaves passing to Eric Truvillion and Gary Anderson running wild. It was going for it on fourth down (a lot). It was…fun. Spurrier’s Bandits were 35-19 with two USFL playoff appearances in three seasons (juxtaposed against the 10-38 Bucs of that same period). When the USFL folded in 1986, Spurrier was off to Duke, then to UF, where his style was considered revolutionary. But not to the fans in Tampa Bay. They had seen it much earlier.
49. Karrmayne King
School: Keswick Christian Sports: Volleyball/basketball
The gym on Keswick Christian’s tiny Seminole campus isn’t named after King. Yet. She begins her 34th season as a coach at the school. She started as the volleyball and softball coach and was also an assistant with the boys basketball team. Since the 1989-90 season, she has been both the girls varsity basketball and volleyball coach. As the basketball coach, she has a career record of 547-264 with five state final four appearances. She is 471-356 as the volleyball coach, leading the Crusaders to the state final in 1999. That’s 1,019 combined wins. At 55, she shows no signs of slowing down.
50. Vicky King
School: Land O’Lakes | Sport: Girls soccer
The only girls soccer coach Land O’Lakes has known started as a tennis coach and teacher at the school 33 years ago. In 1987, she added soccer to her duties when Pasco County first offered the sport for girls. The Gators became the dominant program in the county and one of the best in Florida, winning a state title in 2003 and finishing as the runnerup in 2015. The program also has made it to the state semifinals four other times (2004, 2015-17). King, 64, the dean among girls soccer coaches, is 499-188-56 in her career. She is just as proud of the more than 30 girls who have gone on to play soccer in college, all of whom have their picture hanging on the wall in the school’s locker room. King also devotes her time to the Special Olympics and coached a soccer team to the World Games in 2015.
Staff writers Bob Putnam, Joey Johnston, Marc Topkin, Greg Auman, Martin Fennelly, Rodney Page, Ernest Hooper, Matt Baker and Traci Johnson contributed to these rankings.
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