A farewell to the football sidelines for Sunlake’s Bill Browning

The North Suncoast stalwart officially ends his season watching the all-star game that he helped get started in Pasco County.
Sunlake coach Bill Browning during a game this past season against one of his former teams, Springstead. (MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times)
Sunlake coach Bill Browning during a game this past season against one of his former teams, Springstead. (MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times)
Published December 6 2018

LAND O'LAKES — It seems fitting that Bill Browning's final season as a high school coach will end watching an all-star game that he helped found.

"I'll be there on the sidelines as a fan," said Browning of Friday night's fourth annual Pasco County All-Star Football Game at Sunlake High. He added with a chuckle: "I can sit there and second-guess everybody."

Browning, who coached football on the North Suncoast for 29 seasons, will stay at Sunlake for one more academic year before retiring after 41 years as a physical education teacher. He is the only coach in Sunlake's history, amassing a 73-53 record since the program's inception in 2007. That includes seven straight winning seasons and four playoff appearances.

While Browning, 63, ranks seventh in Pasco County victories, the numbers are even better in Hernando County where he is second. His 92 wins came at Springstead and Hernando, arch-rival programs he is proud to say he turned around.

"I've had my share," Browning said of his team's accomplishments, adding that he has battled some health issues such as sinus and bacterial infections in recent years. "When you know it's time, it's time. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a good ride."

Turnaround seasons with two schools and making a winner out of a start-up; asked what meant more personally, Browning responded, "I could not weight one more than the other, because they were all personally satisfying. They were all huge challenges."

Although his passion admittedly always has been football, Browning takes pride in having coached the Hernando boys weightlifting teams to third- and fifth-place finishes at state in 2004 and 2005.

Browning grew up in a Chicago suburb playing high school football. A running back/wide receiver/defensive back, he landed a scholarship to Illinois State. With no grand illusions to advance any farther as a player, he said, "I wanted to go into coaching after my senior year in high school."

One former local football player can relate to that. Nick Carroll, once a standout player at Zephyrhills, now coaches at his alma mater and realized at a young age that he, too, wanted to coach football. Carroll was a Sunlake assistant for nine seasons.

"I learned a lot from that guy," Carroll said. "He helped me progress to where I am right now."

For his part, Browning is pleased to hear that. He assessed his coaching style as "intense, tough love, always putting the players' safety and well-being first."

Browning is proud of Carroll, who has led the Bulldogs to three straight playoff appearances and back-to-back district titles, saying, "He's doing a great job over there. That's part of it, seeing other guys being successful."

Browning has coached other players who have become coaches, like Mark Kantor, who now coaches Wiregrass Ranch and Zephyrhills assistant Eddie Burgos. Kantor and Browning sought to organize an all-star game a few years ago and made it happen with the help of the Felllowship of Christian Athletes.

There have been plenty of memorable games — Springstead's overtime win over state-ranked Wildwood in 1989; underdog Hernando's 1997 win over Pasco; and Sunlake's first-ever playoff win, 22-21 over Ocala Vanguard in a 2011 region quarterfinal in which the Seahawks converted a two-point play for the victory.

"That was a big win, because it was so unexpected," he said of the Vanguard game.

Aside from key plays or games, Browning retains a special memory of coaching his son, Brandon, who later became a Sunlake assistant.

"Being able to coach him, I wouldn't trade that for anything," Browning said. "I was harder on him than the others."

"We both learned a lot through it," Brandon said. "The years I played for him was definitely a great experience overall. Coaching for him, I just tried to be like a sponge. I learned as much as I could from him."

Fourth annual Pasco County All-Star Football Game

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Sunlake High School

Who: Top seniors from Pasco County divided into east and west teams. East — Bishop McLaughlin, Cypress Creek, Land O'Lakes, Pasco, Wesley Chapel, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills and Zephyrhills Christian; West — Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Hudson, Mitchell, River Ridge and Sunlake

Admission: $10

More info: Visit www.pascoallstargame.com