The John Benedetto era at Land O'Lakes officially is over.
Benedetto, informed last month his teaching contract will not be renewed for a 39th year, told the Times Thursday that he won't return to the Gators' sideline for a 33rd season. A meeting Thursday with new principal Ric Mellin essentially sealed things.
"I'm out," said Benedetto, who finished four wins shy of 200. "I'm not going to reapply for that job."
Because his teaching contract expires in June, Benedetto would have had to reapply for his coaching job and would not have been on campus during the school day. Had he been assured that re-applying would have been a formality, Benedetto said he might have coached one more year.
But in his meeting with Mellin, he said he didn't come away with such an assurance.
"Extremely disappointing," said Benedetto, adding no assistant principal had spoken to him about his coaching future in the two weeks since learning his contract wouldn't be renewed.
"Basically what I told him was, after what's happened the last two weeks, I've lost all my enthusiasm for the game. I just don't have the determination anymore."
Mellin said he invited Benedetto to remain onboard for spring practice. When he declined, Mellin said "we really didn't get much further in the discussion with regard to our long-term plans."
Now the Gators are sure to enter spring practice without a permanent coach. Mellin said he'd like one of the assistants to run the team on an interim basis. LOL alumnus Tom Carter, Benedetto's choice to succeed him, appears the likely candidate. But Carter remains a candidate at soon-to-open Anclote High, where former Land O'Lakes principal Monica Ilse has taken over. Several Gators players said at Thursday's Sunshine Athletic Conference track meet they want Carter to succeed Benedetto permanently.
"He disciplines the team a lot and keeps up with our grades and all that," junior receiver Andrew Moore said. "But we're going to miss Coach B. because he's been there so long."
Benedetto, the second coach in Land O'Lakes history, retires with a 196-149 career mark. He led the Gators to 17 playoff berths, including every year this decade.
"This is happening all over and I understand that," Benedetto said of his teaching contract not being renewed. "But I never thought I'd be treated this way as a football coach. I thought I'd be able to go on as long as I wanted to.
"I'll miss the kids more than anything else. I've spent 38 years with teenagers."