Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Land O'Lakes football coach John Benedetto put bite in Gators

Land O’Lakes coach John Benedetto, who leaves with a 196-149 record, gathers his 1996 team for some motivating words.

Times (1996)

Land O’Lakes coach John Benedetto, who leaves with a 196-149 record, gathers his 1996 team for some motivating words.

He arrived at newly opened Land O'Lakes High in 1975 with a thick beard, thicker Long Island accent and mop of curly black hair. Nearly 31/2 decades later, John Benedetto is exiting with a head of gray and heart of mild disillusionment. After 34 years at the school — 32 as head football coach — Benedetto is leaving on terms not entirely his own. Because his teaching contract isn't being renewed, the former standout University of Tampa receiver is walking from the sideline four wins shy of career victory No. 200. "You can sit back and say (such a milestone) is not important," said Benedetto, who finishes with a record of 196-149. "But it's important to any coach." Well, Coach, if it's any consolation, you've left a pretty indelible mark, as your peers and pupils attest. The following is a reflection of Benedetto's career, by far the winningest of anyone who has coached football exclusively in Pasco County:

First win

3-0 vs. Zephyrhills (Sept. 9, 1977)

Benedetto's inaugural triumph came at the expense of predecessor Dan Sikes, who left for Zephyrhills following the 1976 season after starting the Gators program the year before. According to a Times report of the game, the Gators collected nearly as many penalty yards (92) as total yards (113), but they prevailed on Mark Peterson's 31-yard field goal late in the third quarter.

Last win

29-0 vs. Wiregrass Ranch (Nov. 14, 2008)

Playing without starting quarterback Stevie Weatherford (broken collarbone), the Gators get a solid debut from sophomore Tanner Stocker (9-for-13, 108 yards) and pounce on five Wiregrass Ranch turnovers. For good measure, senior kicker Alex Spock nails a 49-yard field goal.

Benedetto's bests

Because coaches typically wince and waffle when asked to single out their best player or team, we're making the following choices for Benedetto:


In four seasons as the Gators' starting quarterback, Drew Weatherford established Pasco County career records for passing yardage (7,657) and touchdown passes (79), compiling most of those numbers while doubling at safety. Land O'Lakes was 34-14 when Weatherford started, twice reaching the third round of the playoffs — the farthest any Gators team has gone.


The 2002 squad, led by Weatherford and senior wideout Logan Payne, was the winningest (12-1) of Benedetto's 32 seasons and advanced further in the playoffs than any previous Gators team. Weatherford led the state with 39 TD passes; Payne led Florida with 72 receptions. Among Land O'Lakes' 16 seniors: Benedetto's son, Gio.

Coaching job

We're going with the 1986 team that lost its first five games, including three by a combined 12 points, before winning its last five behind running back and Gulf Coast Conference Player of the Year Todd Edkins. "As many years as I've watched his teams play, if you thought he had a down team, sometime during that season he was going to come back up," former Gulf and Hudson coach (and current Cobras assistant) Keith Newton said.

A loyal following

You'd be hard-pressed to find marriages that have remained intact as long as the nucleus of Benedetto's coaching staff. Here are the longest tenured assistants, with the year they joined his staff in parentheses:

Al Claggett (1977)

Bill Gebauer (1977)

Tom Carter (1988)

Rock Ridgeway (1992)

Benedetto by the numbers

5 Playoff victories he guided the Gators to

12 Consecutive years he led the Gators to the playoffs before retiring

18 Winning seasons

62 Age Benedetto turns April 19

What they're saying

"I lost my high school coach, my mentor and my friend all in one day."

Tom Carter, longtime assistant and 1984 Land O'Lakes graduate

"You always knew John was going to be prepared. … Someone who has been there at the same place as long as he's been, he's established himself as a great coach, and he was always tough to coach against."

Keith Newton, former Hudson and Gulf coach (and current Cobras defensive coordinator)

"He's the one who taught me how to coach. I had playing experience from high school and college, but I had never coached. I didn't know anything about coaching when I first got to him. He gave me every opportunity and all the freedom in the world to learn how to do it. … All those (assistants) in general, all those hours of sitting around and talking, 100 percent influenced the way I coached."

Tim Stevens, River Ridge coach, who spent 12 seasons as a Gators assistant

"I think it was an honor to play for him. I think a lot of kids would say the same thing. Not only as a football coach, but he was also a great, great teacher. I know a lot of kids could go to him if they needed help in anything, just needed someone to talk to. He was always there. … He wasn't just known as a football coach around the high school, he was also known as a good teacher."

Caz Piurowski, FSU senior tight end and 2006 Land O'Lakes graduate

Land O'Lakes football coach John Benedetto put bite in Gators 04/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 10:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Longest home run at Trop and Erasmo Ramirez's pitching doom Rays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier returned. The problem was, so did Erasmo Ramirez.

    Seattle Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso (10) scores on the double by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  2. Rays journal: Kevin Kiermaier returns, Mallex Smith sent to Triple A

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It didn't take CF Kevin Kiermaier long to make his presence felt during his return Friday to the Rays lineup. Kiermaier pretended to have Mariners DH Nelson Cruz's first-inning line drive lined up even as the ball went past him to his right and to the wall.

    Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) flies out in the first inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.
  3. Rays vs. Mariners, 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    6:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    This is a 2017 photo of Jake Odorizzi of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  4. Bucs journal: Starting defense disappointed holding Jags to 1 rushing yard


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs' starting defense held the Jaguars to a total of 1 rushing yard on seven carries in the first half of Thursday's 12-8 preseason win.

    And its members were disappointed.

    Jacksonville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon (24) is thrown for a 1-yard loss as he is stopped by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) JVS102
  5. Jameis Winston's hardest lesson: He can't always save the day


    TAMPA — Ever wonder what in the world goes through Jameis Winston's mind when he tries to fit the ball in a keyhole as he is being dragged to the turf like he was during Thursday night's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars?

    Jameis Winston, left, tries to hang on to the ball as Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler tries to strip it from him.