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"Red Fox' pulls his last trick

Fliers promoting a party for 312 people at the Sheraton Sand Key on Saturday night proclaim, "The Red Fox Is Retiring!" The party is for Hugh Kriever, who will retire later this month as a Pinellas County school system area superintendent after a 34-year career in education. He has spent all but three of those years right here.

The Red Fox? That's a name Nick Bravos gave him in 1968 when the red-haired Hugh outfoxed Nick on the football field. Hugh was head coach at Largo, and Nick, who had been his assistant, had moved on to Boca Ciega.

When the schools met, Nick was in the press box. Near the end of the game, with Largo winning, Nick thought he knew what play his former boss would call. But Hugh called a trick play, got a first down and was able to run out the clock.

The nickname stuck. Even today, in his office behind Palm Harbor Middle School, Hugh has a collection of ceramic foxes and a copy of the Dr. Seuss bookFox in Socks, with a bright red fox on the cover.

Hugh didn't keep the film of that game, but he does have three others: his first victory as a head coach, when Largo beat Seminole, and two sweet Largo wins over archrival Clearwater.

Those Largo-Clearwater games were the biggest thing in town, Hugh recalled, always played on Thanksgiving night before huge crowds. His first victory over Clearwater came in 1963, sweet because it was his first year as Largo's head coach, sweeter because Largo had not beaten Clearwater in more than 30 years.

"I'll never forget it," Hugh said, still savoring the victory. "(Clearwater coach) Earle Brown is probably still mumbling, "How did that bunch of ragtags beat us?' "

Largo didn't beat Clearwater again until 1967, and it took one of the Red Fox's trick plays to do it. On the first play of the game, Largo's quarterback handed the ball to speedy halfback Craig Bennett. The entire Clearwater defense zeroed in on him to stop his run. But he flipped the ball to the fullback, who passed it to a Largo receiver within 25 yards of no one. He scored. No one else did the entire game.

But there's been a lot more to Hugh's career than football games, including being the first principal of Pinellas Park High, where the red, white and blue Patriots opened their doors for the first time in America's Bicentennial year, 1976.

And it all goes back to the fact that Hugh, a boisterous kid out of Sewickley, Pa., joined the Marines and played football for the base team at Quantico, Va., where the head coach in 1950 was a man named Bill Justice.

"Meeting him was the best thing that ever happened to me," Hugh said of the man who opened doors so Hugh could get a football scholarship at the University of Louisville and later a teaching job in Pinellas County.

After finishing college, Hugh stayed in Louisville for three years as a high school history teacher and assistant football coach. But his sister-in-law, Jane Fels, was a teacher at Skycrest Elementary here in Clearwater. And during a back-to-school night in the fall of 1959, she mentioned to one of the visiting parents, who also worked for the school system, that Hugh was interested in a job here.

The parent was Bill Justice. He arranged interviews for Hugh at Tarpon Springs and Largo high schools, and Hugh came to work at Largo in the fall of 1960.

Saturday's column will look at some of the challenging _ some would call them "sticky" _ jobs that the Red Fox was handed during the next 31 years.