Pasco County is losing another coaching legend before his time due to the Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Larry Beets, the only baseball coach Ridgewood has ever known, told the Times Friday morning that after his five years in the DROP, he was not being granted an extension.
That will bring an end, for now, to a storied coaching career that included stops at Gulf, Hudson and for the last 28 years, Ridgewood. It included one state championship game appearance in 2002, when his Rams upset Dunedin, which was 32-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country, in the semifinals, and 565 total wins. The Rams were 12-14 this season.
In 2007, Ridgewood hosted Larry Beets Bobblehead Night, where a handful of bobbleheads of the popular coach were auctioned off.
Beets, however, may not be done coaching just yet. He can re-apply for his job in one year, and he has looked into volunteering, and he has not ruled out coaching a private school or in a different county.
"I'm not ready to go yet,'' he said. "I'm 60, and I can still throw batting practice every day.''
Along with former football coaches John Benedetto (Land O'Lakes) and John Castelamare (Wesley Chapel), Beets is the latest in what is becoming a long line of popular, respected and admired coaching veterans being being nudged out before they want to.
“It’s not good for the kids at Ridgewood that he’s not coaching,” said fellow veteran baseball coach Calvin Baisley, who has been the varsity coach at Land O’Lakes for 27 seasons and himself has four years left in the DROP. “He wants to coach. It’s not a good day for high school baseball when people like Larry Beets aren’t able to coach.”
The DROP provides teachers with a financial incentive to get them to retire within five years, but because of a shortage of teachers three-year extensions had been commonplace until recent years when the education budget situation worsened.
"When I went into it, people were getting eight years,'' Beets said. "Had I known (it would be five) I wouldn't have gone into it.''
But Beets is not complaining. While disappointed, he said he understands that people are losing their jobs and times are tough.
"It's disappointing,'' he said, "but it's been a great ride.''
-- John C. Cotey, firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Bryan Burns contributed to this report.