When you consider the dwindling student population, the shiny new school 3 miles away (1.7 if you take the shortcut), and the 22 straight losses — especially the 22 straight losses — there seems to be little doubt that being the head football coach at Hudson is the toughest job in Tampa Bay.
The second toughest?
The guy trying to fill that position.
Longtime Pasco County fixture and current Hudson athletic director Keith Newton sounds tired. It is Monday, and he is reopening the search for a head coach.
The search started in January. Rebooted in February. This week, the job has been reposted one last time.
Yep. It’s that tough of a job.
“It’s a big position. It’s an important position. We need to find someone to make a commitment. It’s probably going to take 3-4 years to get us turned around,” Newton said. He pulls no punches with applicants, and jokes he may have knocked a few prospects out of the ring in which they threw their hats.
Newton isn’t sitting back waiting for Mr. Perfect anymore.
He contacted former Gaither head coach Mark Kantor last week and was expecting to interview him this week.
Kantor, who is 38 and an assistant last year at Wharton, has applied at a handful of places, but not Hudson. He was, however, an assistant there from 1999-2002.
He jokes that all coaches have something wrong with their wiring and think they can conquer any challenge.
He is intrigued by the Hardest Job In Tampa Bay.
“Maybe a challenge is what I need in my life,” Kantor said.
Or maybe he is crazy.
Which makes him perfect.
Newton has been desperately trying to find perfect among a small and imperfect list of candidates.
He had his guy once, but was turned down. He has been trying to reach another possible pick to fill out some additional paperwork, but hasn’t gotten a call back. Some applied but never responded, and others changed their minds or come with baggage that Newton is unwilling to inflict on a program in dire need of the right guy.
“This is the toughest job I’ve ever had to fill,” Newton says, admitting the task is driving him a little crazy.
Hudson needs a coach willing to take on what may be an impossible task, turning around a program that has crashed and burned, much of the damage inflicted by the arrival of Fivay, a new school ridiculously close to Hudson.
Hudson Middle, once a feeder for the high school that stands behind it, now sends many students to Fivay. The Hudson Police Athletic League team, while still called the Cobras, now wears red, white and blue uniforms — the colors of Fivay.
And Hudson’s school population has dropped from roughly 1600 to 1100. The effect has been felt in every athletic program at the school except for a few, Newton said.
In an area that was more known for producing tough, hard-nosed football players than athletically gifted ones, the depreciation has been devastating.
Newton was the head football coach at Hudson when Ridgewood opened, siphoning off students. He was the head football coach at Gulf, when River Ridge opened and turned some Bucs into Royal Knights.
But that process was gradual. This has been different. And immediate.
“I came in knowing the situation, but maybe not knowing it as fully as others may have,” said Justin Fenton, 0-20 the past two seasons before resigning as head coach. “I came in with a five-year plan. I came in with a fair amount of bravado. It was a tough lesson.”
Fenton and Fivay, led by one of Pasco County’s best coaches in Chris Taylor, arrived together.
Fenton, 30, barely had enough players to field a varsity team, which then bleeds into the junior varsity team, which then bleeds into the future.
There was talk about skipping spring practice last year. Every so often, Fenton, a former River Ridge player, suited up and played linebacker to make up for the shortage of bodies.
He says there isn’t a boy over 100 pounds in the school he or one of his assistants didn’t talk to about playing football. He emailed coaches locally and across the country, asking for suggestions and help. He found ways to maximize sparsely attended practices.
But even the best minds were flummoxed when it came to helping solve Hudson’s unsolvable problems.
Fivay, meanwhile, is flush with players and went 7-4 last season behind Hudson transfer and 1,000-yard rusher Kyrie Rodriguez, making it to the playoffs in just its second season.
Hudson, which opened in 1974, hasn’t always been bad. That started in 1980, the year after Newton led them to the playoffs ahead of a population boon that led to new schools like Ridgewood and River Ridge.
Mark Nash arrived in 2004 and the following season went 10-3 as the Cobras made it to the region finals. Even though he never finished over .500 in consecutive seasons, he went to the playoffs three times before leaving for Nature Coast and getting out ahead of the new school.
Fenton replaced him but never had a chance, presiding over a steep decline that may not be reversible.
Hudson has always been a tough job, but never the toughest, like it is now.
It will require diligence and daring and determination.
For the coach.
And for the guy who hires him.