Gary Anders made sure to stop each player as they trickled out of the locker room.
The iconic Ridgewood boys basketball coach, wearing dark slacks and his signature sweater vest, wanted one final word after the season finale. He offered an encouraging word, a handshake and the tone of a proud father.
Anders, 57, has long been considered the father of Ridgewood basketball since his return to the sideline more than 20 years ago. No surprise, then, that his resignation announcement Wednesday came with little fanfare other than a few sentences he sent in an e-mail.
Though Anders would rather just unplug the limelight, the North Suncoast’s all-time wins leader can’t simply be sent off with a mere statement of fact.
“It’s the biggest loss we could ever have in this county, this area really,” Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Calzone said. “Look at the coaches that have come and gone. There haven’t been a lot of guys that have single-handedly made things happen. He’s kind of the staple for our county.”
Anders’ hire in September 1987 was chronicled a “coup” after former coaches Bob Howell and Don Cooper resigned within two months of each other. Ridgewood’s basketball program had sipped success, but the possibility of going into the school year without a bona fide coach threatened to unwind that progress.
Credit former Ridgewood principal Wendell Krinn, who lured Anders back to the sideline.
Krinn told the Times upon Anders’ hire: “We interviewed a lot of people that could’ve done a good job for us, but nobody could do it any better than Gary. …We’re just lucky he still had a desire to coach.”
Consider Krinn, who is retired and still attends Ridgewood games, a visionary.
Anders walks away with 560 wins in 31 seasons as a head coach. He guided 18 teams to 20-win seasons and joined the 500 club after a 70-66 win at Land O’Lakes on Jan. 18, 2008.
Anders’ last Ridgewood game Feb. 23 ended in a 76-58 region semifinals loss to Nature Coast on Anders Court, named in his honor after eclipsing 500. He takes pride in having sent kids on to play college basketball, including Division I players Corey Seels, Andrew Reed and Lukas Poderis.
“There’s been so many fond memories that they all kind of blend together,” Anders said. “I’ve been so fortunate and so blessed, had teams that won a lot of ball games and great support. I can’t think of anything negative. It’s been awesome. …What more could I ask for?”
So why this year?
Anders is one year from becoming the latest casualty of the Deferred Retirement Option Program that ended the career of former Land O’Lakes football coach John Benedetto and derailed former Wesley Chapel football coach John Castelamare’s career, forcing him to seek a position in the private sector.
“At the most, I would have been coaching one more year,” Anders said. “As I told some of my returning players, in fairness to them and the new coach, why not let that person have an opportunity to work with these kids and rebuild them. We only have four varsity players returning.
“That played a big role.”
Anders plans to teach architectural design next year and continue to serve as athletic director.
On Tuesday, he coached alongside Calzone in an all-star game. Calzone, who coached with Anders two seasons, had heard rumors about him stepping aside.
“I was sitting there on the bench and I said, ‘If this is the last time, it’s been an honor to sit next to you,’ ” Calzone said. “He laughed. I thought he was shaking it off. It kind of hit me because I said that in a joking matter, but I feel privileged to be the last guy to sit next to him.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.