Armwood High coach Sean Callahan, who turned the football program into a state powerhouse, resigned Friday.
The longtime coach, who leaves with a 233-105 record, was already on an abbreviated timetable. This fall was supposed to be Callahan's final season. He was in the DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program), a lucrative package for teachers who leave the profession within five years after signing up.
Callahan, who would only confirm via text message that he had stepped down, told the players after Thursday night's jamboree. He was set to enter his 28th season with the program and leaves a loaded team that will be a strong contender for a state title.
"I think Coach Callahan absolutely was one of the standard bearer," said Plant coach Robert Weiner, who had some epic county battles against Callahan's Hawks. "(Dominick Ciao and Earl Garcia), those guys continue, but Sean kind of took that mantle and became the standard bearer not only in the county, but even in the state."
"I remember talking to (quarterback) Robert Marve in 2005 and us pondering, 'Could we ever be something like this?' We knew that when we played Armwood, win or lose, we would come in Monday way better because we knew what it was like to play against the best."
Hired in 1983 as a linebackers coach at Boca Ciega, Callahan became coach of the Hawks seven years later. After having losing records in three of his first four seasons, Callahan started on his run that transformed the program into one of the state's best.
Armwood, under Callahan, made the playoffs the first time in 1996, advanced to the state semifinals in 2000 and in 2003 became the first public school team in Hillsborough County to win a state championship since Blake in 1969. The Hawks won another title the following year.
"There's several emotions I feel," said Hillsborough High coach Earl Garcia, who hired Callahan at Bogie. "First as a professional, his football team has been the team to beat in our district for a dozen years. He's done a remarkable job. His teams are known for being physical and well-coached, and I'm going to miss coaching against him, because Sean and I have been friends since 1983 and remain strong, close friends. I was taken aback."
Armwood's dominance was built in the weight room, something Callahan preached. A stifling defense and punishing running game were also hallmarks under Callahan.
He also remained loyal to the program.
Callahan resisted offers to become a college assistant in the past. He was a finalist for the Bradenton Manatee job in 2003, and in 2006 was a finalist for a $90,000 a year job in Valdosta, Ga.
In 2011, the program was investigated by the Florida High School Athletic Association on charges of recruiting and residency issues.
Recruiting was never proved, but five players were cited for falsifying residency claims. Armwood was fined $12,743 and stripped of 26 wins over the 2010 and 2011 seasons, including a state championship.
Callahan maintained his innocence.
Even after that setback, the Hawks remained contenders. Armwood advanced to three straight title games (2013-15) before losing in the region semifinals last season.
"I think he got the ball rolling for the success of the county again," said Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, who played and coached at Armwood under Callahan. "Back when we won in 2003, it was the first time in 30-something years that Hillsborough County had a state champion. I think he'll be remembered for that. I think he'll be remembered for all the kids he put into college. He's going to have a good legacy."
Times correspondent Kelly Parsons contributed to this report.