Pasco County's newest boys basketball coach is also now its most experienced.
Mitchell, which lost coach Tom Jessee to the University of Tampa last month, has hired 59-year-old Dick Buckenroth, a retired teacher and longtime coach who spent last season as the Mustangs' varsity assistant.
"It made a lot of sense to have a guy who would make a smooth transition," athletic director Ian Mooney said. "That became a focal point in our search, and his experience and the rapport he has built with the kids made him stand out."
Buckenroth thought his coaching days were through when he retired to New Port Richey in 1998 after 20-plus years as a science teacher in the Buffalo suburb of DePew, N.Y.
Gulf football coach Keith Newton convinced him to volunteer as an assistant coach that fall. When several Buccaneers coaches switched to Mitchell when the school opened two years later, Buckenroth followed. Jessee convinced him to join his basketball staff as an assistant last season.
"The football kept my interest in coaching alive," said Buckenroth, whose resume includes nine years as a head varsity basketball coach. "The experiences I've had at Gulf and Mitchell have been really great, and that's what has made me want to stay with it."
Jessee, who guided the team from eight wins in its first year to a breakout sophomore season, encouraged Buckenroth to apply for the position and recommended him to Mooney.
"I talked to Tom about it, and he was 1,000 percent in favor of our decision," said Mooney, who also said there were no other internal applicants for the job but several from outside the school's staff.
Buckenroth inherits one of the county's top returning teams. All five starters, led by guard Jeremy Hopper and forward Jason Weaver, return from a squad that went 19-10 but lost in the opening round of the Class 4A, District 8 tournament.
"Dick was very involved in bringing the kids along last year," Jessee said. "I think the foundation was laid in the past two years, and now that the talent level is up, he'll take the team and run with it.
"He's got a wealth of coaching experience and I think it's a win-win situation for the program and the kids."
With two reserves as the only graduating seniors from last year's team, Buckenroth has the same nucleus back and said he'll make only a few minor tweaks to Jessee's coaching philosophy.
"We'll be slightly different, but much the same kind of team," Buckenroth said. "We don't have a lot of height, but they're very talented and all of them play pretty smart basketball."
Buckenroth worked with the Mustangs football team last year as a defensive line coach and junior varsity defensive coordinator. This fall, he'll work exclusively with the JV team, running the defense and preparing for basketball season.
"When I was a teacher, coaching was always a fun part of my day," Buckenroth said. "Now that I'm retired, it's even more of a fun part of my day."
Mitchell still has three head coaching vacancies on its staff. Swimming, boys golf and girls track positions are still unfilled. Carl Kukec, an assistant coach for the past two seasons, was named girls soccer coach last month.