TAMPA — Mike DePue was already standing behind the podium and the presenter of the next award wasn’t even in the ballroom. So, as he’s told his players to do countless times over the years, DePue followed the script.
“The winner of the Billy Turner 2012 Coach of the Year Award,” he said, “is me.”
Thus DePue, head coach at Robinson High the past nine years, got to fete himself Thursday in front of a crowd of about 400 peers, players and family members for the 44th annual High School Coaches Award Luncheon.
The calculated surprise was the highlight of an afternoon hosted by the Tampa chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.
Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson and Tampa Bay Rays executive Rick Nafe, the master of ceremonies, came up with the idea for DePue to announce his own award when scheduled presenter Ricky Reynolds, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback, had to cancel at the last minute.
“I don’t know how you top that,” Robinson said.
DePue, who will lead the Knights into the Class 5A semifinal Friday, has been honored as coach of the year three times — more than any other county coach.
DePue had been told prior to the luncheon that he won the award and had even been asked to present the Roland Acosta Assistant Coach of the Year award to his offensive coordinator, Rob Burns.
But Lanness Robinson’s audible added a bit of intrigue to the normally orderly affair.
“We were like, ‘how’s he going to introduce himself?’ ” said Burns, whose own award contained a less-pleasant surprise — it identified him as an assistant at South Tampa rival Plant High.
DePue, who got teary-eyed and red-faced during his speech, will retire from Robinson at the end of the season.
He told the audience that he intends for his last year as head coach — his third 10-win season in four years — to last at least a little bit longer. The Knights (12-1) will host Tallahassee Godby at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Peters Stadium.
“This isn’t the end,” he said. “We’re going to try to finish the job.”
Also honored at the luncheon was Riverview High, which won the West Coast Officials Association Sportsmanship Award.
“We just wanted to be in the top six,” said Sharks coach Michael Thornton. “This speaks volumes about our kids.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @jdhometeam.