TAMPA — Near the end of his eulogy for Bill Minahan on Saturday, Plant High football coach Robert Weiner stepped from the pulpit and transformed the standing-room-only throng inside Christ the King Catholic Church into a personal pre-game locker room.
With gravel in his voice and a gleam in his eye, Weiner walked down part of one aisle. He talked about personal responsibility and loyalty, about how tough people outlast tough times, and about generosity.
Just the way "Wild Bill" preached it to legions of kids for decades.
"The greatest man that's ever touched young people's lives that there's ever been," Weiner said.
Variants of that sentiment about Minahan — universally known as "Wild Bill" — were echoed during an 80-minute service on a cool, overcast South Tampa morning.
A Hillsborough County prep football icon who earned his greatest acclaim as Jesuit High School's coach for 20 seasons (1966-85), Minahan died Monday at Tampa General Hospital. He was 84. The new kidney he received in March 1986 — expected to last only five years — endured for nearly 28.
Mourners included an array of Jesuit sports alumni including Atlanta Falcons president/CEO Rich McKay and Columbia Restaurant president Richard Gonzmart, as well as former Hillsborough County athletic directors Wayne Williamson and Vernon Korhn.
Following Weiner (Jesuit, Class of 1983) as eulogists were Dominick Ciao, who replaced Minahan as Tigers coach in 1986, and Minahan's son Billy.
"From 1986 to Dec. 30, 2013, coach played for a championship every single day," said Ciao, who now coaches Berkeley Prep. "And every single day, he found a way to win."
When winning became too tiresome, Minahan — a Marine and Korean War veteran — went out on his own terms. A recent blood cancer diagnosis had forced him back on several medications, as well as a dialysis machine 11 hours a night.
"It's pretty amazing, because here he is in my eyes, the iron man," said Billy Minahan, one of his three children. "I can't tell you one time that, no matter what he went through, did I ever hear him complain.
"And here he is, he decides when his time's up. It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to do that. We were sitting there and he said, 'I've had a good life. It's time to go.' "
As the end drew nearer, Mr. Minahan had his final game plan in order. On Christmas Day, he told Weiner he wanted a "big" sendoff with a front-page story on his death.
He got both.
On Saturday, about 1,200 mourners heard little about his 132 victories at Jesuit (including Hillsborough County's first state title in 1968), his proficiency as a University of Tampa quarterback in the early '50s, or his induction into four sports halls of fame.
Instead, they were reminded of his boundless generosity, salty speeches and searing passion. They heard of his loyalty to players and peers, and his devotion to wife Martha, whom he courted while she was still a Jesuit geometry teacher.
Ciao recalled this exchange with his old boss: "Dom, I'm being as honest as honest can be: Martha, she saved my life.'"
Reciprocally, he spent decades trying to save others. Mourners were urged to contribute to the LifeLink Legacy Fund, in honor of the couple's championing of organ donation from practically the moment Minahan received his own transplant.
As they exited Saturday, an organist performed The Battle Hymn of the Republic. In a small courtyard outside, a lone bagpipe player performed Amazing Grace.
"This isn't about football, this is about the power to change lives," Ciao said. "Coach had the power to change lives."