The balancing of politics, pigskin begins for Tampa Catholic coach

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Thu. November 8, 2012 | Joel Anderson

The balancing of politics, pigskin begins for Tampa Catholic coach

TAMPA — Practice was getting started Wednesday when Bob Henriquez ambled onto the field, a camouflage-themed Tampa Catholic cap on his head, dark shades covering his bleary eyes and a whistle around his neck.

The players, who had been going through warmups and drills moments earlier, were called into a team huddle. Then, as if on cue, they stormed over to embrace Henriquez.

“I missed these guys,” Henriquez said. “I couldn’t wait to get out here.”

On the field, along the sideline and to hundreds of players, coaches, parents and football fans, Henriquez is still Coach Bob.

But Henriquez, head football coach at his alma mater for 18 of the past 22 years, is now known for another role by thousands more people — or his constituents, if you will: Hillsborough County property appraiser, which he was elected Tuesday.

A Democratic state representative from 1998-2006, Henriquez’s return to elected office comes as his football team is 7-2, playoff-bound and poised to potentially end a 12-year losing streak to longtime rival Jesuit.

Indeed, his twin passions for football and public service have collided, and winning at both has made all the coaching and campaigning easier.

“It’s really been a special week,” Henriquez said. “I’m taking it all in stride.”

After hosting Jesuit in the regular-season finale, the Crusaders will prepare for their Class 3A playoff opener at Fort Meade on Nov. 16.

If Henriquez can guide his team on a deep postseason run, it will give him more time to ponder whether it’s possible to continue coaching while running an office with 130 employees and an $11 million budget.

“At this point, I’m really focused on finishing the season out,” he said. “But I’ve said all along that I have a constitutional responsibility to the voters of Hillsborough County and I take that very seriously.”

The 48-year-old Henriquez has previously managed to hold public office and dabble heavily in Xs and Os, but never faced the challenge of doing both in equally time-demanding jobs.

In the Tampa Bay area, there is little evidence or research showing that any local high school football coach has simultaneously served in an elected office. It’s unclear if the same is true for the rest of the state.

“It’s got to be a difficult thing to do,” Plant coach Robert Weiner said. “But as a football coach, particularly in high school, you have to learn to juggle a million things at one time. That’s what Bob does all the time and he does it about as well as anybody.”

Henriquez starred on the offensive line at Tampa Catholic in the early ’80s before moving on to Princeton.

He graduated from Princeton in 1986 and moved back home, working as a planner and in various roles with engineering firms while also taking an assistant coaching position at his alma mater. Five years later, he was appointed head coach.

Since then, Henriquez has a career record of 128-77 over two stints at Tampa Catholic (1991-99 and 2004-present). During that time, he was elected to the House in 1998, reelected three times before stepping down and later worked as a regional administrator for the state Department of Children and Families from 2008-11.

Clearly, juggling is nothing new to him.

Henriquez had previously considered a return to public office but found nothing that appealed to him. That changed when incumbent county property appraiser Rob Turner admitted in May to sending porn to his human resources director, whom he previously dated and fired.

That created an opening Henriquez saw as a good fit. With nudging from friends and local Democrats, he entered the race and mounted a campaign that drew wide-ranging support — his old West Tampa strongholds, a good number of Republicans and even voters in the territory of his Republican challenger, state Sen. Ronda Storms.

Said Henriquez: “Some parents have told me I’m the first Democrat they ever voted for.”

“He was like a coach to us,” said Craig Baur, who worked on Henriquez’s campaign. “He motivated us and kept us going. You could see why people were drawn to him.”

But staying a head coach could prove difficult, which Henriquez has admitted since entering the race. He said that he’s looking at all options, including taking more of a CEO approach to the role on a staff with three former head coaches.

For now, Henriquez said, he’s simply going to enjoy these next few weeks with his team.

Until further notice, he’ll still be Coach.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at janderson@tampabay.com or on Twitter @jdhometeam.

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