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TAMPA — Three days after completing his third season as Jesuit football coach with the program's 13th consecutive win against rival Tampa Catholic, James Harrell confirmed he won't return.
A statement released by the school Monday afternoon indicated Harrell, 29-6 with two district titles in his brief tenure, had stepped down. When asked if the decision was entirely his own, Harrell referred to a statement he provided for the news release.
Jesuit principal Barry Neuburger, among the administrators who met with Harrell on Monday, said the decision was the coach's.
"We just accepted (Harrell's) request that he wanted to step down and pursue other opportunities," Neuburger said.
In the release, Harrell, a Tigers assistant under Dominick Ciao from 1994-2004, said: "It has been a privilege to be at the helm of such a strong football program as Jesuit's.
"We had a great run these past few years. I look forward to moving on to future challenges and being able to see more of my son's (Anthony, a Georgia Tech freshman) college games."
Assistant athletic director Brian McNulty, a Tigers offensive lineman in the mid 1990s, will serve as interim coach, effective immediately. Neuburger said there's no set timetable for finding a replacement.
"Gee whiz, we're just trying to absorb this," Neuburger said. "We're looking at this as a chance to move our program to the next level."
Speculation on Harrell's replacement almost certainly will include Plant coach Robert Weiner, a 1983 Jesuit graduate who has led the Panthers to four state titles in the past six seasons. Panthers co-defensive coordinator John Few, another Jesuit alumnus and former Tigers assistant, also could emerge as a prominent candidate.
In a text message to the Times, Weiner, a longtime friend and former schoolmate of Jesuit athletic director Terry Rupp (Class of 1984), indicated his only focus is on Orlando Freedom -- Plant's first-round playoff foe Friday.
A 1975 Chamberlain graduate, Harrell became the first African-American coach in Jesuit's 100-plus-year history when he was hired over more than 150 other applicants in January 2010.
A former University of Florida and NFL linebacker, he followed his decade as a Jesuit assistant with an ultra-successful stint as co-defensive coordinator at Plant, helping the Panthers win state titles in 2006 and '08. He spent the 2009 year as coach at Freedom, leading the Patriots to a 7-3 mark and playoff berth.
At Jesuit, he inherited a program that had missed the playoffs three of the previous five years, but led his inaugural team to an undefeated regular season and Class 2A playoff berth. In three seasons, he lost only two district games.
The triumphs, however, periodically were accompanied by turbulence.
Harrell had three different offensive coordinators in as many seasons, and drew the ire of some parents for a style more blunt than diplomatic. The school itself came under scrutiny when Anthony Harrell was allowed to transfer from Freedom to Jesuit for his senior year. Jesuit generally doesn't accept junior or senior transfers.
Harrell suggested Monday he'd like to pursue another local head coaching job. As for 2013, he said he'll "probably take a year off as a head coach and try to coordinate."