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Former Gulf coach gets job at Mitchell

Tom Jessee, the Bucs' former girls coach, now will coach boys at the new school.

He's back. Already.

Former Gulf girls basketball coach Tom Jessee has accepted the boys basketball job at Mitchell. Yes, the same Tom Jessee who resigned from Gulf in January to become intramural director at the University of Tampa and work as an assistant with the men's program.

Why did Jessee put his name in for the Mitchell job, resign from Gulf and then take the position at the university if he knew he might have to resign after a few short months?

Simple. Jessee said if he hadn't planned it that way, he might have been out of a job completely.

"It was kind of in the back of my mind. It would be a perfect situation that I would get the job at Mitchell," he said. "But there was certainly no guarantee of that. I was fortunate to come out on top."

Jessee knew his teaching position at Gulf was going to be eliminated along with others because Mitchell was drawing students from Gulf. Jessee had always wanted to coach boys basketball, so he didn't hesitate to apply for the Mitchell job.

But what if Jessee didn't get that job? That's why Jessee talked to UT men's coach Richard Schmidt about an assistant's position. Jessee said Schmidt knew he was waiting for the Mitchell job to be decided. Then the intramural director's job opened up. Jessee accepted it and planned to be sitting on the Spartans' bench in the fall.

Until Mitchell athletic director Ian Mooney called him Wednesday night and offered him the boys job.

"It's just a kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start a program as far as a new school is concerned," Jessee said. "It's always something I've wanted to do, and boys basketball is where I got my start.

"I accepted it Wednesday night, but I said, "Let's wait (to announce it) until I got a chance to run it by the people at the university.' They understood that it was a chance to advance and do something you've always wanted to do."

Jessee, 35, started coaching before he even graduated from college. An all-state guard at Matoaka (W.Va.) High, he signed with Bluefield State and broke his right foot his freshman year. He planned on a comeback, but an assistant's position with the women's team opened up in 1985.

"I certainly wanted that," he said.

He spent three years as an assistant, graduated in May '88 and was hired as the women's head coach in June. In nine years, he compiled a 187-85 record at the Division II school, took the team to the national tournament in '85, '87 and '93 and left as the school's all-time leader in wins.

Then the career of his wife, Tiffany, a surgeon in Clearwater, brought them to Florida in '97. He took the head girls job at Gulf and compiled a 37-39 record in three years, taking the Bucs to the first regional tournament in the program's history.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to step into a school," Jessee said of his new job. "To be the first to establish some tradition, there's always hard work in establishing a program.

"Where you're a coach, you're always looking for hard work. This is a welcome (opportunity) at this point for me."

Said Mitchell assistant principal Jim Michaels: "He comes with a lot of experience. He knows the game well, the kids. He'll fit right in with the coaching staff that we have right now."

Jessee will be holding a meeting for students and parents interested in the program at 7 p.m. Thursday at Seven Springs Middle School.

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