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Tampa Catholic hires Russo to coach baseball team

Former Plant and Hillsborough baseball coach Pat Russo, out of the prep game since being dismissed as Terriers coach in 2006 amid recruiting allegations, has resurfaced in a big way.

Russo has been hired to replace Rich Arena as coach at Tampa Catholic, the school announced in a news release Thursday afternoon. A 208-game winner who led his final Terriers club to the Class 5A state finals, Russo inherits the most storied program in Hillsborough County (nine state titles).

"He blew me away in the interview, absolutely blew me away," said principal Thomas Reidy, also a former Crusaders baseball coach.

Russo didn't immediately respond to a phone message Thursday. Four months after leading the '06 Hillsborough team to the 5A state championship game, he was fired by then-principal William Orr.

Two days before the dismissal, then-county athletic director Vernon Korhn confirmed the baseball program was being investigated for potential violations. At Plant, Russo's coaching contract wasn't extended after the 2001 season because he didn't work on campus.

On Thursday, Reidy said he took Russo's past into account.

"I did my research," said Reidy, who estimates he had a dozen applicants and interviewed about half. "Coach Russo told me it was the best and probably most thorough interview process he's ever been through. If I felt like he would do anything that would ever tarnish Tampa Catholic or our baseball program or students, he wouldn't be our coach."

Russo's coaching acumen rarely has been called into question. In six seasons at Plant (1996-2001), he compiled a 96-47 record and helped 34 players earn college scholarships. In 11 seasons of coaching, his teams have earned three playoff berths and won three Saladino Tournament titles.

"I don't think his baseball coaching ability nor his record was ever in question," Reidy said. "But his passion for the game, for what he could bring out of our student-athletes, he blew me away."

Smith's Tide start delayed? Don't be shocked if former Armwood all-state linebacker Petey Smith doesn't suit up for the University of Alabama this fall. Fact is, Hawks coach Sean Callahan said, that has been the plan all along.

Smith was among four members of the Crimson Tide's incoming freshman class not on the initial 105-man roster when Alabama reported for fall camp Wednesday. Smith is expected to "grayshirt," meaning he wouldn't enroll until January so his signing doesn't count against the current signing class.

"We have three potential guys. … that will be pushed back to January in terms of them starting their college career," coach Nick Saban said at his pre-camp news conference.

Callahan, reached Thursday, said Smith's grayshirt is not academic-related.

Alabama returned all four starting linebackers from 2008, though starter Brandon Fanney wasn't invited back to the team for a violation of team rules. Five linebackers signed in February, but Smith is the only one of the five expected to grayshirt.

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@sptimes.com

Tampa Catholic hires Russo to coach baseball team 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 10:27pm]
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