Seminole’s Sam Roper has retired from coaching football after 28 seasons, principal Walter Weller said Friday. Weller said Roper will remain a driver’s ed teacher.
“This wasn’t a situation where I asked Sam to step down or anything like that,” Weller said. “I have a lot of respect for Sam. He decided that it was time. He’s been a great guy, and in talking to former players I know he’s made a difference in their lives.”
Roper, 65, had mulled retiring since the beginning of last season. He said he made the decision for personal reasons.
"You go through the end of every season and take time to think about things," Roper said. "Usually, once spring comes around, you get renewed. But this was just something I had to do at this time. I want to thank the administration for giving me the time to make this decision on my own. I know they've had to put up with some not-so-great years."
Weller said the position will be posted on the Florida High School Athletic Association website and that he will name an interim coach for the spring. Weller said he would like to have a new coach sometime in mid May and he would prefer to have one on campus.
“I just think it works best when you have a coach that’s here,” Weller said. “We don’t want to rush the process. We want to find the right guy, and that could mean even going outside the county.”
A player and assistant coach at Clearwater in the 1960s and '70s, Roper was hired at Seminole in 1985, becoming just the third coach in the program's history. Roper believed he could win right away. It didn't happen. In his first season, 35 players went down with injuries and the Warhawks limped to a 2-8 record.
Roper soon realized it was going to be impossible to right the program in a single year, or two or three.
Seminole had just three winning seasons in Roper's first 15 (58-93 overall). The Warhawks came around 13 years ago. The turning point came with a win over Northeast in 2000, the Warhawks' first against their nemesis in 21 seasons.
Attendance jumped at the school, the players suddenly were better, and in 2000 and 2002, Roper's teams had 10-0 regular seasons.
But the past few seasons were marked by staff turnover and declining participation. Roper leaves with an overall record at Seminole of 116-174.
“Every coach is going to go through peaks and valleys,” Weller said. “You’re going to have strong years, and you’re going to have some lean ones. I know Sam has coached to the best of his abilities with what he’s had to work with.”
Roper was instrumental in starting the Pinellas senior all-star game in 1994, one of the longest running all-star games in the state. He also founded the Pinellas Suncoast Coaches Association.
"People want to judge a coach strictly by wins and losses," Roper said. "They don't want to look at how many kids get scholarships or get into college. We did some good things, and we had some good years, too."