Richard Schmidt, 80, retires as University of Tampa basketball coach

The Kentucky native won more than 700 games in 40 seasons with the Spartans.
University of Tampa men's basketball coach Richard Schmidt, 80, announced his retirement Friday after 40 seasons at the school.
University of Tampa men's basketball coach Richard Schmidt, 80, announced his retirement Friday after 40 seasons at the school. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published April 14, 2023|Updated April 14, 2023

University of Tampa men’s basketball coach Richard Schmidt, who recently completed his 40th season at the downtown Division II program, has announced his retirement.

Schmidt, 80, made the announcement in an emotional address Friday morning inside the Bob Martinez Athletics Center. Pausing frequently to compose himself, he indicated the daily commute he has made the last four years from his Ocala ranch — where he raises birds and wife Mary Jo trains saddlebred horses — had become too much.

His announcement nearly coincides with longtime UT president Ronald Vaughn’s recent announcement that he plans to retire in 2024. Like the school’s other coaches, Schmidt didn’t work under a contract, instead serving as a day-to-day employee of the university.

“I wanted to get to that 800(-win) mark, but I wasn’t quite able to do it because I’m old,” said Schmidt, one of the nation’s foremost aviculturists. “I’ll be 81 in September, and I figured I just can’t keep (going) back and forth.”

A grandfather of nine, Schmidt departs with a record of 714-422 as Spartans coach and 742-449 overall college mark. A former Vanderbilt coach and assistant at Virginia (where he was instrumental in recruiting Ralph Sampson), Schmidt was hired at UT in 1982, when the school decided to resuscitate men’s basketball after 13 years of dormancy.

In the first decade of his tenure, the Spartans won five conference crowns, made eight NCAA Division II tournament trips and even upset Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team at home in December 1986. He was far more animated at that stage of his career, widely viewed as a Bob Knight replicate with a Bluegrass drawl.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Fivay High boys coach Rod Brooks, who played four seasons at UT in the early 1990s after being recruited by Schmidt out of Palmetto High.

“I’ve learned so much from him and how things go and how to be uniformed — just the whole thing. I’m thankful. I’m just thankful that I got an opportunity to pick the right school and I picked the right coach.”

Longtime Tampa Prep boys assistant Cory Kosiba, who also played for Schmidt in the early 1990s, said his old coach possesses an X’s-and-O’s knowledge “like nobody I know.”

“For me, personally, he took a kid who had to learn how to become a guard, and he taught me how to shoot and all that stuff that I couldn’t do before I got there,” said Kosiba, who had starred as a post player at Tampa Catholic.

“He turned me into a shooting guard and spent hours working with me individually on my shooting form. ... Stuff like that, personally for me, that time he spent with me, made me like the game and love the game even more. And I think maybe that’s why I got into coaching myself.”

Spartans 14-year assistant Justin Pecka, whom Schmidt openly endorsed Friday to be his replacement, called his boss the consummate talent evaluator.

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“I think what makes him a great coach is his ability to see a kid and see what he can become and kind of see his ceiling,” said Pecka, a UT student manager before elevating to his current role. “I’ve gone into gyms with him to see a kid, and he’ll know during warmups whether that kid can be a good player or not.

“And X’s and O’s-wise, he’s basically like a savant.”

UT ultimately won eight Sunshine State Conference regular-season titles and made 14 NCAA Division II appearances on Schmidt’s watch but struggled in recent seasons as budget constraints hamstrung the program for a time. The Spartans have achieved one winning season the last six years and haven’t reached the NCAAs since 2014.

But as recently as last November, longtime UT athletic director Larry Marfise lauded Schmidt’s performance, saying he “deserves the right to decide when he wants to leave.”

“I’ve been at the ups of this school and downs of this school. I’ve gone through four presidents,” Schmidt said Friday.

“I always stayed here because the people that worked in the athletic department have always been tremendous people.”

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