On high school football game nights, as Friday night turns into Saturday morning, there's not enough time in the day for Plant coach Robert Weiner. Moments after his postgame pep talk to his players, Weiner is still working hard, burning CD copies of video of the just-completed game for each of them. Then it's on to copies of the next week's opponent for his assistants. If he's still wired, he tallies his players' statistics. By that time, it's almost 3 a.m., and the 10-minute drive from the field house to his Davis Islands home would be a waste of time considering he has to be up in three hours for more work. Instead, he sleeps in the field house.
"Sometimes you'll see him and he's passed out in the chair," Plant senior All-America quarterback Aaron Murray said. "Remote in his hand, pressed on rewind."
When Weiner, 44, took over a program that finished 1-9 just five seasons ago, he told his players that one day they would be receiving state championship rings. Considering Plant's fall off the state football map — the Panthers went to four state semifinal games under Roland Acosta in the 1970s — some would have scoffed.
Today, when Weiner's Panthers face Tallahassee Lincoln for the Class 4A state championship at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Plant can win its second title in three years.
Plant first won a state title in 2006, with a team led by now-University of Miami quarterback Robert Marve. Current players say that after the high of winning, last year's exit in the region final — a loss to Hillsborough County rival Armwood — left a bad taste in the coach's mouth and pushed him to work harder.
"He wants to get there every year," Murray said. "He's always worked hard, but I think he worked a little extra hard to make sure we were completely ready for this year.
"He is always in the field house."
Weiner arrived at Plant with no head coaching experience. He was an assistant at Tampa Jesuit, his alma mater, for 15 years (the 1983 grad never played football there). After a year at Crystal River, he arrived in South Tampa with a dream of building a winner. It turned out to be the perfect place for him. And Weiner turned out to be the perfect fit.
"He's just one of those guys who you just knew was going to be successful at whatever he did," said former Jesuit coach and current Berkeley Prep coach Dominick Ciao, who had Weiner as a student in his P.E. classes and later had him as a wide receivers and special teams coach.
"Whether it was coaching or teaching or being a lawyer, it doesn't surprise me to see what he's done."
At Plant's Dads Stadium, the overlooking water tower that proclaims Plant as the school of champions offers a small-town feel along the hustle and bustle of South Dale Mabry Highway.
"When we were at Jesuit, we wondered what it would be like coaching in a one-horse town, where you're the only show in town and everybody's pulling you in one direction," Weiner said.
"Well, we have the best of both worlds, because we're in the middle of the city, but it's a community school."
Weiner knows how to utilize that mix. Take this week, for example.
One day he was sending e-mails to every local media outlet to promote a pre-championship game media day. The same day, his face brightened when a messenger came to his office with a bag of blank CDs. The next day, he was casually chatting with new Auburn coach Gene Chizik. And the next, he was playing Frisbee with some of his players.
"He loves doing what he does," said senior tight end Orson Charles, who has nearly 40 scholarship offers. "You don't see that in most coaches. He loves to coach, he loves to send people to college and have people come back."
'Cast of thousands'
It's all smiles at Plant. Weiner has an army of supporters, from loyal players to a well-stocked assistant coaching staff to a pool of deep-pocketed parents.
"It is a cast of thousands to this point," Weiner said. "I can remember back to our first year, where we're getting ready for our first home game, and I'm putting out the yardage markers, and I'm getting our ice buckets ready.
"Now I just say we need something, and like magic it appears."
He has sold the program well. Plant's allotment of tickets to the nationally televised season opener against Armwood sold out in one lunch shift.
This year's success can be attributed to great defensive play, but the Panthers' spread offense — Weiner is also the offensive coordinator and said he took the base of the offense from his Jesuit days — is among the county's most fun to watch.
"We never lose sight of the fact that football's a game and we want to have fun playing it," Weiner said. "I think our offense has something to do with that. We might win, and we might lose, but we're going to be entertaining. I'll tell you that much either way."
Another state title would be an emphatic statement that Plant has established itself as a state and national power.
The new sign above the entrance to the football field house has plenty of room for future state titles, and that's for a reason.
"It's always good to put a label on that — 'Okay, they are state champions,' " Weiner said. "But we know where we are before we go into that game (today).
"From a football standpoint, this is what you aspire to from the point you start your workouts. It would mean a lot."
Robert Weiner over the years
In five seasons as football coach at Tampa's Plant High, Robert Weiner has taken a losing program — the Panthers were 1-9 the year before he arrived — and put the Panthers one win from their second Class 4A title in three years. Here's a look at his record:
Year Record Result
2004 3-7 No playoffs
2005 9-3 Lost to Armwood in region semis
2006 15-0 State champions
2007 11-2 Lost to Armwood in region final
2008 13-1 In state final today