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Column: Weiner already living his dream

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Tue. January 8, 2013 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Weiner already living his dream

Sunday afternoon Plant football said goodbye to the guy who took the Panthers from here to there, from local to national, from nothing to something else.

Tuesday morning the Panthers were fortunate enough to replace him with pretty much the same guy, if you discount the small blemish on his reputation that his abrupt divorce from USF will leave.

Robert Weiner, the most famous — and most successful — high school football coach Tampa Bay has ever seen, was for just a few moments this week the wide receivers coach at USF.

He had an office, attended meetings, discussed recruiting.

Folks on the Internet debated how good he would be as a coach, and how many players the charismatic new Bull would lure to Fowler Avenue. Players from USF and local high schools tweeted their excitement.

His hiring was a touchdown.

That was Monday.

By Tuesday, it was over.

What had seemed so right to Weiner over the weekend now wasn’t.

His pro-con list didn’t make sense anymore. The idea of coaching in college wasn’t what he thought it was. And the dream that most every high school football coach has, to move up and be a part of a college football program?

“Not my dream,” he said before a news conference to explain himself to the rest of the world.

“Why didn’t I know that three days ago? I don’t think anybody really understands their essence, or what’s in their heart, until that’s not there.”

Weiner is sure to be criticized for his about-face. And he is fine with that.

“I don’t mind being the town idiot,” he joked, but it was a personal choice he has to live with, and he doesn’t regret it.

He shouldn’t.

Oh sure, the whole affair was all in poor form. A little embarrassing, even.

But Weiner made the only decision he could. To be happy.

It’s a good thing that the irreplaceable coach no longer has to be replaced, because honestly, did Robert Weiner, USF wide receivers coach, ever sound right?

Did it ever feel right?

He’s 48 years old, and really, where was he going to go at USF? Was there really time to climb the ladder, rise through the coaching ranks, put in the unforgiving grind that is a college assistant job and become a head coach?

Was the anonymity worth it?

Weiner didn’t just take a job at a great high school with a great football program in 2004. He didn’t walk into something that was already there.

He built it.

He is Plant football.

The program may be the scourge of some, or the evil empire to others, but it has been undeniably special the past decade.

He has constructed the finest staff around. He turned the Panthers into a powerhouse in the county, then the state, then the nation. He has developed quarterbacks for Miami, Purdue, Alabama and Georgia universities, including 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate Aaron Murray.

He has won four state championships, and 90 of his past 99 games. And he hasn’t even been there 10 years.

He belongs at Plant.

He made the wrong move leaving, and the right one returning.

His biggest regret, as it should be, is putting new USF coach Willie Taggart in a tough spot.

Taggart, who in a very short time has put a significant charge in the USF program he must resurrect, is still trying to fill spots on his staff.

He made a bold move, wildly praised, by hiring the most famous high school coach in Tampa Bay. With too much local talent escaping USF, Taggart is working hard at plugging those holes.

“He took a step of faith,” Weiner said, “and in the end I let him down.”

• • •

In wasn’t one thing that led to his second resignation in three days, Weiner said, but a bunch of little things and a “constant tug at my heart.”

He had left what made him happy for what he thought was his next step, his next challenge.

He was wrong.

It happens. Just ask Billy Donovan or Chip Kelly or Urban Meyer.

After his first full day, Weiner called Plant principal Robert Nelson and asked for his job back, which wasn’t a problem because his resignation hadn’t gone through.

He called his father, mother and brother. He slept on it. Robert Weiner woke up Tuesday knowing exactly who and what he is.

“I’m a high school football coach,” he said. “It’s my calling.”

He is a coach, a teacher, a mentor, and he is revered in Plant’s wide circle of influence.

He walked away from that, but just for a minute.

He didn’t return because he got a counteroffer from Plant. This wasn’t about money. It wasn’t about power or ego, he said, or being the big man on campus as opposed to an anonymous assistant coach.

“I came back for the kids,” he said.

He wants to coach and teach and have an impact on the lives of his players and students.

“I’m a teacher, a coach and a well-loved man,” he said, “and that’s enough for me.”

Today, he’ll return to the classroom where he teaches English. Thursday, he’ll meet with his team.

Monday, the Panthers begin offseason workouts.

Welcome back, Coach.

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