If state championships are the measure of success — most people would say they are — they are the top football coaches in Hillsborough County. But Armwood's Sean Callahan and Plant's Robert Weiner have reached success in different ways. Both are known to meticulously study film well into the night and both are masters at motivating players. But their personalities differ. As the county's top programs clash on Friday in front of a nationally televised audience, here's a closer look at the men who have led their respective programs to the top.
He never lets up
Sean Callahan's cell phone keeps buzzing as it dances around the tabletop of his new desk in his new office next to a new weight room in a new football fieldhouse.
Callahan's castle is the benchmark, and envy of every program in the county, and Armwood — ranked No. 2 in the nation by rivals.com — has long been Hillsborough's top dog. But Armwood's climb had been built on sweat and blue-collar work.
Just last year, with two state titles already in his hand, Callahan would do some of the team's laundry. Sometimes his job involves checking up on his kids, sometimes picking them up for practice, making sure they're eating well.
"I've got everybody's number," Callahan said. "They know I can call them at any time, too. They can't screen me either."
During his high-tempo practices, every minute has its purpose. There's no conditioning in between because conditioning is included in every practice. The purpose is to prepare his kids for the college game, and Callahan annually sends handfuls to the next level.
Former Hawks standout and current Auburn running back Eric Smith called Callahan a few days ago, saying he has already developed the reputation of being "the Armwood kid," because he handles Auburn's training regimen with ease.
Before they play on Saturdays, those practices prepare his players for Fridays.
"He lifts you up, gives you this fire," senior offensive tackle Justin Cabbagestalk said. "He installs that mentality that you're out for blood."
"Tempo is big," Callahan said. "I don't like our kids to ever be comfortable when you're shooting bullets. I see that as being a benefit of getting our kids ready."
From Thoreau to thorough
Robert Weiner shies away from being called erudite — his word, not ours — but the term is fitting for the Plant coach.
He quotes the words of Henry David Thoreau's Faith in a Seed: "Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
After years as an assistant at Jesuit, Weiner took over a 1-9 Plant team and grew it into a state champion in three years. He did it through becoming well-versed about every facet of his team and his opponent's. His motto is to leave no stone unturned. His goal is to see things from every angle. And that mantra has created a winning atmosphere by earning the backing of his players.
"We know as a team that he's done enough work that what he's saying is right and that we're confident in him and what he knows about the other team," Plant quarterback Aaron Murray said. "We know we can trust him, and that's the biggest thing for a head coach."
With a 26-2 record the past two seasons — both losses coming to Armwood last year — college scouts coming in droves and a national ranking, the winning makes believers.
But before then? When all Plant had to build on was a one-win season?
"We had to have faith that there was something there that wanted to grow," Weiner said. "You have to go on that faith, that what you're trying to lead your young people to is the right thing because there are a lot of times when your approach will be questioned by other people and by yourself."
Staff writer Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at [email protected]