Steve Gogas wears the ring proudly. It's gold with a blue jewel, and boasts the soccer title he's most proud of. The ring is faded and smooth, and stands the test of time. Just like Gogas' coaching career. For nearly 40 years, Gogas, a native of Greece, has coached the St. Petersburg Kickers, a local amateur team. Now, after numerous titles and wins, the 65-year-old Land O'Lakes resident is being inducted into the U.S. Adult Soccer Association Hall of Fame in October.
"Coaching and soccer are both my passion," Gogas said. "I love them both and I've coached all over the state. It's rewarding to be recognized for all these years.
"I like soccer, I like to be around it. It's my passion — even when I watch it on TV, I go nuts (over a game)."
Gogas laughs when speaking about retirement. His wife figures he will coach until the day he dies, and Gogas can't see himself not coaching.
"I would love to do it as long as I can," Gogas said. "Yeah, I'm retired, but soccer is what I want to do. I want to be on the sidelines. I've never even really thought about retiring."
Gogas began coaching the Kickers in 1972. Then, he was just filling in. He also played for the Kickers, but that didn't last as long as his coaching career. In 1989, the Gogas-led Kickers became the first Region III team to claim the USASA Open Cup title.
That's where the ring is from.
"It's been with me 20 years," Gogas said with a laugh. "It's been with me a while."
But his coaching style has been with him even longer.
"Steve's an interesting individual," said Jim DiNobile, a goalkeeper who was on the 1989 team.
"Steve always has a knack of getting guys together for a team. He always had to coach good players and, then, their egos. Steve could always do that consistently.
"So he had to man manage. Has been doing it for years and is still doing it."
As a manager, Gogas is like a mechanic who can juggle. He has to adjust this, play with that, keep the players balanced with each other. Personalities might not mesh, but Gogas can interact with all of them, former players say.
"What Steve has is a great ability to adapt with every type of personality," said Skip Miller, a Kickers goalkeeper who played with the University of South Florida in 1997.
"He always has the right mix of players on the field at the right time. He can always tell who will flow the best."
Gogas also works with younger players and helps them develop to pursue a professional career.
He's coached notable players such as Peter Ward, the 1982 North American Soccer League MVP and English National team member, and Steve Trittschuh, a former U.S. National Team member and the first American to play in the World Cup, Olympics and European Cup (now known as the Champions League).
"When you come to my team, you have to have passion for the game and be committed," Gogas said. "I've coached a lot of big players and they've played on high levels, so they know. Sometimes, on the side, we have a disagreement, and I'll listen to it.
"I don't put them down, but I say if it works, it works. It's a compromise out there and you have to give respect to get respect. It will always be that way."
Which is just another good example of his drawing up the right roster. Miller says that will be extent of him working a playbook.
That's because he's a guy, DiNobile says, who will be coaching "as long as he can get up in the morning."
And as long as that ring has just enough shine to it.
"He's not an X's and O's coach," Miller said. "He's never going to draw up plays. He's about meshing heads and making (that player) succeed.
"He had confidence in me to put me in there over another goalkeeper that had been there for a while. He was able to help me and others from different generations to get along.
"He has this ability to teach and coach any type of player from best to the lowest. That's his best he gives."
Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 544-1771.