Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Former Plant High football coach and principal Vince Sussman dies at 63

TAMPA — Former Plant High School teacher, football coach and principal Vincent Sussman, who added a new dimension to an inspirational career after a fall that left him a quadriplegic, died early Monday. He was 63.

Mr. Sussman suffered health problems since a fall from the roof of his home 16 years ago broke his neck. He died in his sleep.

"I think his body just had enough," said his wife, Meg Sussman. "He went peacefully."

Monday, news spread among educators, friends and former players who had remained close to Mr. Sussman through his promotion to a district administrative job and his retirement in 2008.

"God just got somebody really good up there," said Karen Clay, an activist for disabled rights whose son attended Plant High because of accommodations arranged by Mr. Sussman. "That just breaks my heart."

Once a defensive tackle at Kansas State Teacher's College, Mr. Sussman was known to players as Coach Suss and later, after they graduated, as Big Suss. Other coaches and friends called him the Big Fella.

As a coach, he was fair, organized and disciplined. His teams had fun, recalled Jimmy Kalamaras, who played inside linebacker at Plant in the late 1970s, but he could be tough. After a loss while Kalamaras was a sophomore, Mr. Sussman called a practice on the team's off day. Kalamaras, who went on to play football at the University of Florida, recalled it as one of the "top two hardest practices I've ever gone through."

As an administrator, Mr. Sussman encouraged teachers not to give up on students and to think ahead. As an assistant principal, he encouraged social studies teacher Frank Perez to go to graduate school for his master's degree so that he could become a department head one day. Later, Mr. Sussman gave Perez that job.

"He had a tough exterior, but it belied the big heart that he had," Perez said. "He loved teaching. He loved working with students and with athletes. … He left a big mark on a lot of people."

Mr. Sussman, a father of two, possessed a deep love of children and a dedication to his work, said Mrs. Sussman, who met him when they were 18.

"He was a good husband and a good friend," she said. "Our kids adored him. He was my best friend, and I was his best friend. He was always there for me."

Mr. Sussman was hired in 1973 at Plant, where he taught driver's education and physical education. He went on to become assistant principal and athletic director, then principal in 1993.

Clay met him when her son, Michael Phillips, wanted to attend Plant, his neighborhood school, even though his severe disabilities made him a candidate for a special education class at Jefferson High School.

As Phillips described the conversation, Mr. Sussman told him that "stupid rules are for stupid people" and he would make sure Phillips had what he needed to succeed at Plant.

Phillips was a rising junior in the summer of 1997 when Mr. Sussman tried to repair the roof of his one-story home. The ladder slipped and he fell.

Mr. Sussman returned to work when school resumed that August, running Plant from a wheelchair and a voice-activated computer. He told the Times, "I'm not going to dwell in self-pity or why it happened. I've never taught anybody to do that. … I've got to start living the lessons that I teach."

People noticed.

"He still commanded respect," Kalamaras said. "You gave it to him because of who he was and the words that came out of his mouth. They were always uplifting."

In 2000, he became the district's director of resource management, overseeing multimillion-dollar construction budgets.

But he suffered a variety of health problems related to his immobility. After choking on a pill, he needed a tracheotomy and started using a ventilator at night. Unable to speak, he would move his lips and his wife would translate. Friends, including Plant alumni, organized yearly golf tournaments to help with Mr. Sussman's medical expenses.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.

Vincent Sussman was honored with a retirement party in 2008 at the school district resource management office in Tampa. 

Times files (2008)

Vincent Sussman was honored with a retirement party in 2008 at the school district resource management office in Tampa. 


Vincent Joseph Sussman

Born: Dec. 8, 1949

Died: Oct. 7, 2013

Survivors: wife Meg; daughters Sarah Sussman, 36, and Angela Sussman Kral, 35.


Vincent Joseph Sussman

Born: Dec. 8, 1949

Died: Oct. 7, 2013

Survivors: wife Meg; daughters Sarah Sussman, 36, and Angela Sussman Kral, 35.

Former Plant High football coach and principal Vince Sussman dies at 63 10/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 12:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marijuana extract sharply cuts seizures in severe form of epilepsy


    An oil derived from the marijuana plant sharply reduces violent seizures in young people suffering from a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to a study published last week that gives more hope to parents who have been clamoring for access to the medication.

  2. 'I ain't fit to live': Police say Mississippi gunman kills 8


    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — A man who got into an argument with his estranged wife and her family over his children was arrested Sunday in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including his mother-in-law and a sheriff's deputy.

    People embrace Sunday outside the Bogue Chitto, Miss., house where eight people were killed during a shooting rampage Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss.
  3. Kushner's Russia ties questioned as Trump cites media 'lies'


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump's son-in-law may need to be revoked.

  4. Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Muslims in Portland, Ore., thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.

    Jeremy Christian is accused of killing 2 men who stepped in as he berated two women.
  5. Following Trump's trip, Merkel says Europe can't rely on U.S. anymore


    LONDON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Donald Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, shown speaking with President Trump last week, says Europe “must take our fate into our own hands.”