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Column: Playing the name game at Northside Christian

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Mon. April 16, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

You have seen him lower his head and charge forward.

You have seen him run over linemen, linebackers and defensive backs, Bears, Vikings and Falcons.

You have seen him carry defenders across the goal line. Two. Three. Sometimes four at a time.

But if you’re marveling over Mike Alstott’s most impressive feat, tooting that old train whistle for something really impressive, for one of the toughest tasks of his football life, well, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Alstott, who might just be the most popular Tampa Bay Buccaneer ever, was hired last week to be a high school football coach at Northside Christian.

Great news for the Mustangs. A coup, even.

The returning players, few though they are, were excited. The program, 1-9 last season, was the center of the Tampa Bay sports media universe for a day.

There was hope. Everybody’s happy.

But can he coach?

Who’s going to be on his staff? What kind of offense will he run? What about the defense?

Who knows.

Who cares.

It’s Mike Flipping Alstott.

For now, that’s enough.

• • •

The Mustangs have won just 14 games in the past four seasons.

They were outscored 412-82 in 2011.

Alstott is going to lose games. Lots of them. For a few years, and maybe longer.

These things take time.

The Mustangs finished last season with barely enough players to field two basketball teams, much less a football squad.

You don’t fix that with Xs and Os. You fix that, first and foremost, with more Jimmys and Joes.

Northside Christian is banking on Alstott drawing crowds at football games, and in the school hallways, preferably a crowd of baseball and soccer and basketball players who are now willing to give football a second look.

And if there are any parents who wanted to send their kids to Northside Christian but were hesitating because their football-playing son would have to play for, well, that, you can now rest easy.

All aboard.

When it comes to actual, you know, coaching, those who have been doing it in Tampa Bay have a few suggestions, but almost always the first one is this: build a good staff.

Over the years, many coaches have told me they had no idea what they were doing in their first season. They took too much control, tried to do everything, didn’t delegate.

They learned.

“You can’t coach by yourself,” said Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis, then he chuckled: “But I have a feeling Mike Alstott knows a few people who know a little something about football.”

He played at Purdue, and put in 12 seasons for the Bucs under smart, successful coaches like Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, and played with dozens of other guys with those same experiences.

So, yeah, he might know a few people.

The second suggestion?

Buckle up.

• • •

Will it work?

Previous Bucs have done all right, even if most of them don’t seem to stick around too long.

Ryan Benjamin has lit a fire on the New Port Richey campus of River Ridge, his alma mater, but it has only been one season.
Donnie Abraham put a jolt into Gibbs, and things were good, for two years, before he resigned.

Richard Wood coached Wharton, in his fourth season taking the Wildcats all the way to the state championship game, before he moved on.

It’s a tough, tough job, being a high school football coach. They don’t last as long as they used to.

At Northside Christian, it has been even tougher.

Who can fix that? No one knows. An old veteran, someone who has rebuilt programs before, a hot young assistant, someone from out of state?

Or, perhaps, Mike Alstott?

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

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