Rick Rodriguez said he is stepping down as Largo High football coach after 15 seasons because it’s time. Simple as that.
The announcement came Thursday as Rodriguez formally ended an era in which he turned the Packers into one of Pinellas County’s more successful football programs.
“Time to step down and let a younger guy take over. Toughest decision I had to make,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez, 60, played at Northeast and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. He coached at Ripley (Tenn.) High for seven years before becoming an assistant at Clearwater in 1984. Rodriguez spent 16 seasons with the Tornadoes and was in charge of building one of the best defenses in the county.
For years, he applied to become a head coach in the county and was passed over five times. In 2000, Largo gave him a chance. It didn’t long for Rodriguez to build the program into a winner. The Packers have won a county-record nine straight district titles, and
Rodriguez finishes his career as the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 123-40 mark.
The greatest stretch of playoff success was from 2005-08 when Largo advanced to two state semifinals and one region final. During that time, the Packers twice had running backs who set the single-season county rushing record. In 2005, Dexter McCluster, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, rushed for a county-record 2,490 yards. Two years, Brynn Harvey, who played at UCF, broke the mark with 2,581 yards.
“We’re real close. He just inspired me to never stop dreaming, to always take the extra step,” said Tampa Bay Buccaneer Leonard Johnson, Largo’s quarterback on those 2006 and ’07 teams. “He was the only coach I know that when I was going through a tough time in high school, I could come stay at his house, talk to him. He was more of a mentor. I can’t even put it into words. A lot of people don’t know, man, but he’s been really good to me.”
Johnson and Rodriguez are also fishing buddies in the offseason.
While the players — and some of the assistants — have changed, Rodriguez found a way to keep Largo among the county’s elite.
This year, though, was one of his toughest. He started the season in the hospital with an irregular heartbeat and coached a preseason game and the season opener from the press box. Two players were suspended from the team.
Last week, defensive coordinator Jeremy Frioud was hired as the head coach at Northeast. Other Largo assistants could join Frioud’s staff with the Vikings.
Rodriguez told the players during a meeting Thursday afternoon. The news was not surprising.
“It wasn’t a shock to me,” defensive back Cordell Hudson said of Rodriguez. “He’s been sick the whole season. He was a great coach. He always preached discipline. He also was like a father to us. I felt like I could come to him about anything.
“My sophomore year I was dealing with some personal problems, and he sat down with me and talked with me and actually let me miss practice to deal with them. He’s not the richest man, but whenever we needed something he made sure we had it.”
Rodriguez will remain a teacher at the school. He said he does not plan to become a head coach again.
“I’m not going to pull an Urban Meyer,” Rodriguez said.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report. Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.