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Column: Plant's Robert Weiner, 'cleared' of bad decision making?

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Sat. August 20, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Plant's Robert Weiner, 'cleared' of bad decision making?

TAMPA — Plant High School football coach Robert Weiner is angry.

In a scathing, Pulitzer-worthy report by Yahoo Sports that detailed a massive recruiting scandal at the University of Miami, following an 11-month investigation that involved a gajillion hours of interviews, many to corroborate the damning information found in more than 20,000 meticulously researched documents, one high school football coach was mentioned.

One.

Robert Weiner.

Weiner spent a few days this week deflecting questions. He didn’t know the facts. He wasn’t quite sure the report citing him was accurate.

But it was. He now admits that.

In 2008, he took then-Plant tight end Orson Charles on a recruiting trip to the University of Miami and ended up in the $6-million mansion of booster Nevin Shapiro, who is currently in jail for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme.

Asked how that happened, Weiner flippantly said he meets lots and lots of people on recruiting trips, and how was he to know Shapiro was a bad dude, and how could he be expected to remember this particular trip, even if it involved a mansion.

“I’ve been in lots of mansions,’’ he said Friday.

But, hey, he’s been cleared by the Hillsborough County school district. He repeats it a few times, and it’s the latest drum chant out of Plant: He’s been cleared.

Time to move on.

The Office of Professional Standards decided not to investigate, and what appears to have been about a 17-minute probe by the Plant administration and county athletic office turned up nothing. Neither, though, is allowed to talk about it.

But there was really never anything to accuse Weiner of, to clear him of, because no one ever linked him to the drinking and the strip clubs and cash.

Just the mansion.

And he shouldn’t have been there. How do you clear someone of that?

Can we assume it’s okay for any coach to take a player on a recruiting trip, to wind up in a booster’s mansion despite the NCAA rule prohibiting it, to not know where he was going or who he was going to see, to not ask questions and blindly follow wherever the tide took him?

Because that’s Weiner’s defense, whether he feels he needs to make one or not.

Weiner can accuse the media of implicating him in the far broader scandal, of unfairly linking him with Shapiro, of “spinning” this story — if that’s what asking, “Did you know this guy, and why were you there?” is.

They are fair questions, but they make Weiner angry — at the wrong people.

He should be angry at Shapiro, for welcoming him into his house and showing him around, for remembering his name, then telling the whole world about it almost three years later.

He should be mad at Robert Marve, Plant’s quarterback and golden child after winning that first state championship in 2006 and kicking off the Plant dynasty as we know it. According to the report, Marve led his former coach and Charles into the lion’s den.

Weiner, for the record, declined to reveal how he ended up on the Magical Mystery Mansion Tour, saying, “I don’t talk about people.”

But if what Shapiro says is true, surely Marve knew the guy giving him cash and paying for dinner and booze and handing out singles at the strip club wasn’t someone he should be introducing a coach and potential recruit to, right?

And lastly, how about this: Weiner should be mad at himself.

Bad luck? Sure.

Bad timing? And how.

But is there any doubting, outside the Plant campus and county office, that it was a bad decision?

Are we allowed to say that about the uber successful coach, who has won three state titles in five years?

Sure, he’s been cleared, but isn’t that a little like patting yourself on the back for having way too many beers but still driving home safely?

Weiner was along on the trip with Charles, we presume, to guide him through the process and make sure he didn’t end up where he did — in Miami’s own version of the old Dallas Cowboy White House, in the closet of a booster showing off game-worn Hurricane football jerseys.

Otherwise, why go?

Long-time area coaches, like Hillsborough High’s Earl Garcia, Armwood’s Sean Callahan, Clearwater Central Catholic’s John Davis, Largo’s Rick Rodriguez, Tampa Catholic’s Bob Henriquez and the list goes on, say they’ve never joined a player on a recruiting trip.

That’s for the kid, they say, and the parents.

Weiner scoffs, saying he sees high school coaches on these trips all the time.

“I’m there to help my kids get recruited,” he says.

And to protect them, I assume, from guys like Shapiro who could jeopardize athletes’ college eligibility. To keep their names from ending up in an embarrassing national report.

On this count, Weiner failed.

Is that what he was cleared of?

Weiner said he had no idea where he was headed that day. Despite Marve’s close connection to Shapiro, who said the current Purdue quarterback was his favorite, and Weiner’s even closer connection to Marve, “I had no idea who that guy was,” the Plant coach said.

“I’ve never met him before. And I’ve never met him after.”

Weiner said he and Charles were in this particular mansion for 30 minutes, tops. Then they left.

Did he say anything to Charles?

“I always warn my players about guys like that,” he said.

If that’s the story — 30 minutes in, 30 minutes out, coach warns player not to repeat — it’s a good one.

Weiner should have told it five days ago when he knew the report was accurate. But he says the media spun it so fast, he couldn’t.

But who was trying to spin who?

At the end of the day, Weiner insists “nothing that happened (at Miami) has anything to do with me.”

Except for the one thing that did.

In today’s recruiting landscape, where college football institutions like USC, Ohio State and Miami are falling almost weekly, players and coaches have to be more fastidious.

Let’s not kid ourselves. What happened at Miami probably happens to a lesser degree at a lot of colleges. I am not surprised players end up in, say, mansions of prominent boosters.

But I am surprised when I read that their high school coach accompanied them there.

Cleared or not.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com.

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