TAMPA — Less than 48 hours after Plant High School coach Robert Weiner’s announcement that he was taking an assistant’s gig at USF, the pall over the school remained palpable.
Shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday, in fact, Panthers secondary coach and social studies teacher Bo Puckett conveyed as much in a seven-word text to fellow assistant T.J. Lane:
“It feels so weird over here today.”
Minutes later, the weirdness proliferated. As Puckett and his peers would soon learn, Weiner had outraced new Bulls coach Willie Taggart to the USF coaches offices earlier that morning.
When Taggart arrived, Weiner informed him in “a very difficult conversation” that he had decided to stay at Plant, where he has won 102 games and four state titles in only nine seasons.
“The truth is and the fact of the matter is, (ascending through the college ranks) was never really my dream,” Weiner said Tuesday afternoon before cameras, Panthers players, parents and administrators inside the Roland Acosta Field House on Plant’s campus.
“My dream has always been — is always — to try to use any gifts that God has given me to impact the people around me the best that I possibly can. That’s a pretty simple dream, but it’s a pretty fulfilling one. And after about three days or so …I decided I fulfilled that dream every single day.”
Weiner’s hiring as Bulls receivers coach Sunday was widely praised as a coup for USF’s recruiting in the Tampa area. Now Taggart will have to find another coach for his receivers.
The other candidate known to have interviewed, former N.C. State assistant and NFL receiver Troy Walters, accepted the same job at Colorado on Sunday.
“Coach Weiner is a great coach and a man who will continue to do great things at Plant,” Taggart said in a statement. “We knew pulling him away from the young men in the Plant program would be very difficult for him, and we wish him continued tremendous success moving forward.”
On Sunday evening, in the same field house where he held Tuesday’s news conference, Weiner’s voice cracked frequently as he read a lengthy prepared statement to Panthers players and parents announcing his departure.
Between then and Tuesday morning, he spoke with his parents, brother and several others close to him regarding his decision. On Monday night, about an hour before the BCS national title game kicked off, he phoned principal Robert Nelson about the possibility of remaining at Plant.
“There is absolutely 100 percent nothing about my decision that had anything to do with (USF),” Weiner said.
“(Taggart) is one of the great coaches I’ve ever met in my life. And USF is blessed; they’re going to have many, many amazing days in front of them. …But in the end, I really thought you just had to follow where your heart tells you to go.”
What he didn’t follow, he insists, was money.
USF’s last two receivers coaches earned $90,000 and $80,000, respectively, and both were the staff’s lowest-paid coaches. Weiner, who earns an annual coaching supplement of less than $4,000 in addition to his teaching salary, scoffed at suggestions he was lured back to Plant by wealthy boosters.
“Incredible inane thought,” he said. “Not one ounce of truth.”
Whether his abrupt about-face thwarts his chances of a future college job, Weiner, 48, is unsure. For now, he’s also unconcerned.
“I’m completely fine with that,” he said.
“I knew how hard of a decision it was for him to do this,” said Plant special teams coordinator Matt Walker, who played at Jesuit in the mid 1990s when Weiner was a Tigers assistant.
“Ultimately I think you’ve got to go with what’s in your heart. For him, his heart is at Plant.”
Staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.