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Fisher steps away after 20 years at Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS — In the waning moments of Monday night's Zephyrhills High fall sports banquet, after the ziti had been digested and the cavalcade of athletes recognized, football coach Tom Fisher pulled out a three-paragraph statement and started reading.

Hardly anyone assembled in the Lions Club building realized it was the final misdirection play of his 20-year head coaching career. The second paragraph began: "Therefore, I am retiring as head football coach at Zephyr­hills."

"Everybody was kind of wide-eyed," said junior quarterback Tyler Guy, standing on the stage behind Fisher with his teammates. "There were a bunch of parents (in the audience), and it pretty much just went quiet. … No one expected it."

With that, the winningest football coaching tenure in program history (124-81) ended. Fisher, who guided the Bulldogs to 13 winning seasons and their only two playoff victories, suggested Tuesday morning that his team's struggles over the past two years and the job's increasing demands led to his decision.

The Bulldogs have gone 9-11 in the past two seasons, with this year's team — besieged by injuries — going 4-6.

"There's a lot of negative things, no sense in dwelling on that, but there have been a lot of positive things, too," said Fisher, 56.

"It's not all about winning but in a way it is. When you've got kids you think have the capability of winning and can't get it done, I think it's time for a change. … I just think these kids right now need to have somebody else in charge."

A 34-year coaching veteran in Florida and his native Ohio, Fisher was a Bulldogs assistant when he was hired to replace Barry Gardner following the 1988 season. His first team finished 9-2 and earned the program's first playoff berth.

Despite rosters that annually ranked among the area's smallest, Fisher would produce three 10-win teams and send players to Florida (Bryan Thomas), Ohio State (Ryan Pickett), Miami (Booker Pickett) and FSU (Brett Cimorelli). His 20-year tenure is five years longer than the combined tenures of Zephyrhills' six previous coaches.

"I've said this for a long time, I'm not sure he's not the best coach in this county," said former Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz, who also recently announced his retirement.

"He gets more out of his kids than any coach in the county. Every year you read that he's got 24, 25, 26 kids and a lot of them play both ways and play hard, and he gets the most out of his kids. To me, that's good coaching."

Hiring a replacement could be tricky, athletic director Craig Milburn said, because the school has so few teaching positions available but wants its football coach on staff. Fisher, in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, will remain as physical education teacher.

The coaching job pays an annual supplement of $4,476.

What they're saying

"When we prepared for Tom's teams, we'd always (chart their plays) on manila folders, and you usually have about a quarter-inch-thick stack of folders when you're done. When you played Tom, it was an inch and a half or 2 inches thick. I don't know how he was able to teach those kids to get into all those formations. I don't know how they remembered all of them. But he got the most out of his players."

Mark Nash, Hudson coach

"I've had several county coaches come up to me and tell me Tom has done more to prepare his team than anybody in the county. We might not match up athletically against a lot of teams, but he got our teams not only to compete but to win."

Craig Milburn, Zephyrhills

athletic director

"You have to be extremely ready when you play him. They usually have good players, but even when they don't you have to be prepared. He's a low-key guy. He just did everything so well. He's one of us old-timers and he's a good one. I hate to see him go. I was always amazed at how hard they played. His record speaks for itself."

John Castelamare,

Wesley Chapel coach

"He's a local legend. He's the guy at a coaches meeting when he talks they listen."

Jamie Joyner, Nature Coast

"They're losing a good man. I have a lot of respect for Fisher. He's a great coach. When it comes to X's and O's he knows what he's doing with that sport. I'll tell you what, they're gonna miss him. When you play a Fisher team you're gonna play somebody. That's shocking to hear."

Ricky Giles, Pasco assistant

"I thought Coach Fisher was one of the toughest guys I coached against because he did what he did with what he had. You really had to think against Fisher."

Tom McHugh, Pasco coach

"It's a sad day for football in Pasco County. If anybody did more with very little Tom Fisher certainly did. He's done a great job for many years and he's been a great competitor. I enjoyed the competition and always enjoyed talking to him about the game of football."

John Benedetto,

Land O'Lakes coach

"We had a consistent staff for many years and he gave me a lot of opportunities to work my way up to being a defensive coordinator. I couldn't have asked for a better mentor. I'm sure Zephyrhills is going to miss him. I think he meant the world to the community, the school and the athletic program. He was always a quiet leader, and he built us up."

Matt McDermott, Sunlake athletic director (and ex-Zephyrhills defensive coordinator

Compiled by staff writers

Izzy Gould and Joey Knight

Fisher steps away after 20 years at Zephyrhills 12/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:45pm]

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