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Cotey: Playing field shifts for LOL's Benedetto

John Benedetto’s Gators have made the playoffs the past 12 seasons. He’s not sure he wants to coach if he isn’t teaching.

LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN | Times

John Benedetto’s Gators have made the playoffs the past 12 seasons. He’s not sure he wants to coach if he isn’t teaching.

This is not how Land O'Lakes football coach John Benedetto should go out:

Angry.

Complaining.

In March.

March?

No, it should happen with some notice, on his terms, with a goodbye tour, trying to extend the longest playoff streak in Tampa Bay, reaching for that 200th win.

In December.

It can be that way, Coach, even if they won't let you teach.

So whattaya say.

One more year?

• • •

Benedetto, 61, is only the second football coach Land O'Lakes has had in its 34 seasons of existence.

He has guided more than 1,000 students through his successful program, won 13 district titles, captured six conference championships and directed his team to the playoffs the past 12 seasons.

He needs one more season to put a nice little bow and ribbon on this thing.

This is the dilemma facing the Gators coach today.

He can no longer teach after 38 years, as his participation in the Deferred Retirement Option Program expires.

As a result, he's not sure he wants to continue coaching, to walk in every day at 3 p.m. for practice, to be detached from his team until then.

The budget can't afford him as a teacher. But can Pasco County afford to lose him as a coach.

Benedetto is the fiery sort. Passionate and emotional, he is angry right now and has indicated he likely won't be back.

How then will we ever know if the coach can still win after losing both of his returning quarterbacks? If he can make it to 13 straight playoff appearances?

And to leave with 196 wins?

Really, Coach? So whattaya say, one more year?

Benedetto isn't alone. Coaches like King baseball's Jim Macaluso, Wharton track coach Wes Newton, Alonso soccer coach Ray DiPompo and Plant wrestling coach Ken Sweeney are in the fifth year of their DROP program.

They all elected to postpone retirement, with their benefits all going into an account while they continued teaching.

Now it's over. The teaching is out, and the coaching?

For many, it's a tough question. They believe coaches need to be on campus, to be there when their players need reassurance or help and find themselves in trouble or are being trouble.

To coach without teaching is, well, like consulting.

"I don't think it's fair to the kids," Benedetto said. "There are situations that develop during the course of the day with 85 kids you have with the program. Something's going to develop and the head coach needs to be there to help for whatever reason."

It is the ideal situation. Some athletic directors insist on it, preferring not to hire coaches who aren't teaching.

In the case of guys like Benedetto and Macaluso and Newton, they'd be fools not to make exceptions.

Defensive coordinator Al Claggett, who has been with Benedetto since the two started teaching and coaching in 1971 and is also the boys track coach, faces the same situation. He says he may continue to coach, and a new incoming principal should let him.

Benedetto and Claggett got their first jobs in 1970 thanks to old college buddy and roommate Tom Mosca, now the girls basketball coach at Jefferson.

Mosca is done with the DROP program, but he doesn't know if his year-to-year temporary teaching contract will be renewed for next year.

He plans to continue coaching, however. He's pretty sure he won't like not being in school all day — that's the fun part of it for him — but at age 62, he knows he's not ready to stop coaching.

"I always felt … kind of like (recently retired Chamberlain football coach) Billy Turner — he said he wanted to coach until he couldn't get out of bed anymore,'' Mosca said. "Coaching is … a great job.''

It's getting harder and harder to find old-timers like Mosca and Benedetto and Macaluso, guys who have devoted their lives to a cause fewer and fewer people seem to be willing to.

Check out the coaching carousel at your nearby high school.

It's probably stunning.

For the lifers, this is a bitter pill to swallow. But swallow they must, as the economy tanks and school cuts start drawing blood.

Keep teaching, because there are a lot of lessons to be learned on the field.

Keep mentoring, because Lord knows our children need it today more than ever.

Keep coaching.

Once he takes a second to catch his breath and think things through, maybe Benedetto will agree.

So whattaya say, Coach?

One more year?

Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report. John Cotey can be reached at johncotey@sptimes.com.

Cotey: Playing field shifts for LOL's Benedetto 03/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 19, 2009 7:06am]

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