TAMPA — On the football field, second-year Freedom coach Marquel Blackwell seemed to have turned a corner with his young program.
The Patriots won three of their last four games in 2008, a nice end to a season that also began on a positive note with a victory over neighborhood rival Wharton.
But off the field, the 29-year-old Blackwell, the former fleet-footed Dixie Hollins and USF quarterback, couldn't stay as steady. And an early-morning DUI arrest Jan. 5 appeared to be the final straw for Freedom administration.
Principal Chris Farkas announced Monday that Blackwell had resigned at Farkas' request.
"We felt like he had lost his effectiveness as a role model," Farkas said.
When reached on his cell phone Monday evening, Blackwell declined comment.
Farkas stressed that the decision wasn't based solely on the latest incident, but a number of events in Blackwell's two years as coach.
Blackwell, 29, was arrested by Tampa Police at 3:29 a.m. at the corner of Columbus Drive and Himes Avenue on Jan. 5. According to the arrest report, after a traffic stop was conducted, Blackwell was asked to produce a driver's license. At that time, "he held out a blue Visa card."
Blackwell consented to a field sobriety test, but "exhibited clues of impairment," the police report said. He refused a blood alcohol test and was booked into Orient Road Jail. He was released 12 hours later on $500 bail.
In 2007, Freedom was involved in an ugly brawl with Tampa Bay Tech, an incident that was not blamed on Blackwell but resulted in a $1,500 fine and seven player suspensions. A few weeks later, the district's Office of Professional Standards launched an investigation into a verbal confrontation Blackwell had with another teacher.
Freedom went 4-6 last season after going 1-9 in 2007.
"He is a good guy," said former Middleton coach Harry Hubbard, who remembers first watching Blackwell play at Dixie Hollins when he was an assistant at Jefferson. "He was one of the first guys who called me when he heard I got released from Middleton."
Players were told of Blackwell's departure during fifth period Monday.
"Everything was going really positive with the team," senior wide receiver and co-captain Mark Cionci said. "We all liked him. It seemed like we had turned the corner and then this happens. We were all shocked. The football players really didn't have a say in it. It was the decision Mr. Farkas thought was best."
Freedom athletic director Elijah Thomas said he hopes to hire Blackwell's replacement by early February. It will be the Patriots' third coach in four years.
"We're looking for someone with head coaching experience," Thomas said. "Someone who can lead our students in the right direction."
Times staff writer John C. Cotey contributed to this report.