LARGO — Marcus Paschal was an assistant beside Rick Rodriguez on the Largo sideline the past three seasons and blended into his shadow off the field.
But the days of anonymity are gone for Paschal, who conducted his first practice as Largo’s new coach Thursday.
With Rodriguez deciding to retire after 15 seasons, Paschal has assumed the leadership mantle of the school where he was once a standout defensive back.
If Paschal had a Packer pompom, he certainly would wave it. He is home grown, straight from the Ridgecrest community that has produced so many Largo legends.
That institutional knowledge helped him stand out among candidates. In choosing Paschal, Largo ensured continuity with the program in style and substance, much to the approval of the returning players and those within the community.
Still, Paschal knows all eyes will be on him in one of the most scrutinized transitions among the new head coaches in the bay area.
“I’ll be under the microscope,” Paschal said. “That’s to be expected. Rick had done such a great job with the program and taken to heights no one had ever seen before.”
Football at Largo, like other schools where the sport has a feel of an assembly line, is about winning district titles. Under Rodriguez, the Packers won nine straight titles, including state semifinal berths in 2007 and ’08.
In the five months since Rodriguez’s resignation, followers and observers throughout Pinellas County and beyond have been consumed by the adjustments of a team that will try to keep its district streak alive.
The institution of Largo football, under Rodriguez’s guidance, has been successful because of its consistent attention to detail. Now, those details have been analyzed by those wondering how this new regime will fare.
Paschal is doing it with a new staff. Former defensive coordinator Jeremy Frioud took over as Northeast’s coach and took several Packer assistants with him, including offensive coordinator Ryan Taylor and Dave Angelo. Paschal promoted Largo assistant Calen Yeldon to offensive coordinator and hired Jim Daugherty and Bo Marthaller to be co-defensive coordinators.
“I reached out to the former assistants, but I understood their decision,” Paschal said. “That staff had been together for a long time and built great relationships.”
Paschal said the transition was made easier because he soaked in every lesson he could learn from Rodriguez in how to run a top-notch program.
“I tried to study everything Rick did,” Paschal said. “I knew I wanted to someday take over the program, and I wanted to learn as much as I could from him.”
The only place where the effects have been minimized is within the hallways of what is a veteran team. The Packers return quarterback Donavan Hale, running back John Clark and receivers Jonathan Crawford and Reggie Campbell.
“We feel confident with our new coach, Crawford said. “(Paschal) was who we wanted to see take over because he wants to play up-tempo and he’ll help motivate us.”
The only hiccups Thursday — the first official day of spring practice for most schools — came with the absence of Hale (basketball tournament) and Campbell (family matter). Both should be back next week. The practice structure was still the same. Players broke up in groups and scurried from station to station. The only difference was who was in charge.
“I think we still can do some great things,” Crawford said. “We have a lot to prove. We still have a winning team.”
Son makes his mark
TRINITY — The only feeling of awkwardness Andy Schmitz felt from replacing his dad at the program he built came three months ago, came when he moved into the office vacated by his father, Scott Schmitz.
“I can keep a lot of the same pictures up,” the younger Schmitz said.
So instead of renovating Mitchell’s office, the Mustangs’ rookie coach can focus on a bigger task — rebuilding his offense.
The old-school wing-T system that was a staple of the elder Schmitz’s 12 seasons and amassed more than 6,200 rushing yards over the last three years is gone. In its place, Schmitz is installing a diverse system full of trendy buzz words like “multiple” and “zone-read option.”
“The offense has really been completely thrown out and started from scratch,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz began the overhaul last year, when his dad handed over the keys to the offense to him. Schmitz aired the ball out more, designed the game plan and made many of the personnel decisions.
Now the offense — and the team — is all his.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Schmitz said. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. I’ve seen how a head coach is supposed to act and the right things to do since I was a kid. This honestly is just what I’ve wanted for a long time. It kind of took me a while to get there.”
And on Thursday, he had finally arrived.
Slow, steady start
ST. PETERSBURG — Jeremy Frioud’s first day as a head coach offered a dose of reality. For 12 years he was an assistant coach at Largo, which cranked out talented players every season. His Northeast team doesn’t have that luxury, at least not yet.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have to keep telling myself that,” Frioud said.
About 50 varsity and junior varsity players wore jerseys and shorts for Thursday’s first official spring practice. The Vikings won one game last season, and there are plenty of openings on both sides of the ball, including quarterback.
Frioud said the goal this spring is to instill a new attitude. He has set up a weight training program. Players wear their helmets throughout practice, and pity the player who takes a knee on the sideline.
“I want the kids to be tough,” said Frioud, who coached wrestling at Largo but will not do that at Northeast. “My goal isn’t winning games; my goal is to make the other team not want to play anymore.”
Frioud certainly has his work cut out in his first year as a head coach. And as a bit of irony, his first regular-season game as a head coach will be against Largo.
After five years as a King assistant, Trey Thomas had no problems Thursday in his first practice as the Lions’ head coach.
“I feel right at home,” he said.
Since taking over the program in late February, Thomas said his Lions have had the best offseason in his tenure at the school. A core of 45-50 kids showed up in the weight room to help improve a program that finished 6-4 last year.
Late in his first practice, Thomas said he has already seen strong play from captain Demetrius Mann, a defensive back who’s earned MVP honors at some spring camps and combines.
“He’s going to go far,” Thomas said.
The offseason was busy, with personnel shuffles all over the bay area and North Suncoast:
Bishop McLaughlin: Promoted assistant Craig Moore
Boca Ciega: Former Dunedin coach Max Smith returns after a one-year stint as a Toledo assistant
Central: Former Seminole assistant Christopher Sands
Countryside: Promoted offensive coordinator Eric Schmitz
Dunedin: Former Palm Harbor University coach Matt LePain
Hernando: Former Springstead coach Bill Vonada
Largo: Promoted assistant Marcus Paschal, also a former NFL player
King: Promoted offensive coordinator Trey Thomas
Middleton: Former Polish professional team (Gdynia Seahawks) assistant Jeff George Jr.
Mitchell: Promoted assistant Andy Schmitz
Nature Coast: Former Orlando Oak Ridge assistant Justin Worden
Northeast: Former Largo assistant Jeremy Frioud
Palm Harbor University: Missouri high school coach Reggie Crume
Shorecrest: Former St. Petersburg Catholic coach Steve Dudley
St. Petersburg Catholic: Promoted assistant Dave Cleppe
Staff writers Matt Baker and Rodney Page contributed to this report.