LAND O'LAKES — Over the last decade or so, John Benedetto has seen many other successful high school coaches retire from teaching but still show up in the afternoons to impart the nuances of drive blocking or drag bunting.
Frank Permuy, the only baseball coach in Gaither history, is among them. Until recently, so was iconic Chamberlain football coach Billy Turner and Bishop McLaughlin boys basketball coach Greg O'Connell.
Benedetto, whose teaching contract isn't being renewed for a final year, doesn't decry such a fraternity. But he can't bring himself to pledge to it either.
That's why he likely will step down after 32 seasons as Gators coach.
"I don't think it's fair to the kids," said Benedetto, informed Tuesday morning that his request for a final one-year extension in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program had been denied by Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino.
"There are situations that develop during the course of the day with the 85 kids you have in the program," he said. "Something's going to develop and the head coach needs to be there to help for whatever reason."
Though he hasn't decided for certain if he'll retire, Benedetto sounded despondent Wednesday morning, as if resigned to a fate he hoped wouldn't materialize.
His original plan: coach and teach one final year, then just coach in 2010, which would have been quarterback Stevie Weatherford's senior season. During that time, he would have picked up career win No. 200 (his record is 196-149) and likely added to his collection of 17 playoff berths (including 12 in a row).
But Weatherford recently transferred to Tampa Catholic for family reasons. Then came Tuesday's letter, which Benedetto described as a short "form letter." Longtime Gators defensive coordinator Al Claggett, a language arts teacher, got the same letter.
Claggett, who lives close to the high school, said he's planning to coach this spring and, depending on who's hired to replace Benedetto, would at least entertain the thought of remaining on staff.
Benedetto, who lives 15 miles away in Carrollwood Village, said he'd consider coaching this spring if a new hire isn't made when practice begins in May. Then again, the decision on who runs the program — either permanently or on an interim basis — will be made by new principal Ric Mellin, who starts Monday.
"The chances are, I'm not going to coach any longer," said Benedetto, who turns 62 next month. "I thought that after 38 years I could go out on my own terms.
"I'm not real happy about the way the higher-ups handled the situation."