The state's educational budget crisis may have claimed the bay area's longest-tenured football coach as one of its victims.
Land O'Lakes' John Benedetto, who hoped to return to the Gators' sideline for a 33rd season this fall, has found out his teaching contract won't be extended one more year in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).
Longtime Gators defensive coordinator Al Claggett, 64, also was denied an extension, Gators athletic director Chuck Moehle confirmed.
A physical education teacher, Benedetto couldn't be reached Tuesday evening, but told the Times in January he may not continue coaching if he can't remain in the classroom.
"I've always been a firm believer the coach should be at the school with the kids," Benedetto said.
Benedetto, who turns 62 next month, is four wins shy of career victory No. 200. In 32 seasons, he has led the Gators to 17 playoff berths, including every year this decade. No other current football coach in the bay area has remained at one school longer.
Moehle said he hasn't spoken directly to Benedetto, who has a 196-149 career record. Also factoring into Benedetto's ultimate decision could be a change in administration. Former Mitchell principal Ric Mellin is set to take over at Land O'Lakes on Monday, Moehle said.
Should Benedetto step down, the 2009 season would dawn without the North Suncoast's two longest-tenured coaches. Zephyrhills' Tom Fisher stepped down at the end of the '08 season after 20 years as Bulldogs coach.