About a month ago, Plant High football coach Robert Weiner discovered one of his players was in an “untenable living situation.” So Weiner asked his director of football operations, Misty Winter, to make some calls to find the player a temporary home.
The player is living with someone connected to the program. Taken all together, the Florida High School Athletic Association said Plant was in violation of rules regarding impermissible benefits. According to the organization’s football manual, student-athletes are not allowed to receive special treatment that isn’t afforded to other students at the school.
Plant self-reported the incident, but it was not enough to avoid heavy penalties. Weiner ended up with a six-week suspension and was fined $5,000 for making those arrangements. Winter also was suspended six weeks and fined $2,500, and the school received an additional $2,500 fine.
“I would probably be disingenuous if I said I didn’t know that was a rule,” Weiner said Wednesday afternoon. “My thought at the moment was I have to think about the kid.
"When you go back and say, ‘Would you do this again?’ It depends on what you mean by this. My charge for 33 years (as an assistant and head coach) has been to take care of kids. I like to think that we’ve done that in a really sincere way.”
The suspension comes the week the Panthers (0-5) play Steinbrenner (5-0) in a pivotal matchup that will likely decide the Class 8A, District 7 title.
Weiner can still conduct practices. He just cannot attend the games. Former Plant City coach Greg Meyer, now an assistant at Plant, will serve as the interim coach on Friday nights.
“I’m going to Misty’s house on Friday,” Weiner said. “We’ll watch the game on a live stream.”
Weiner said he plans to appeal the decision next week in Gainesville. If the suspension holds up, he would miss the remainder of the season unless Plant wins Friday and makes a significant run in the postseason.
Panthers athletic director Lauren Otero, who is the president-elect of the FHSAA’s board of directors, declined to comment, referring all questions to Hillsborough County school district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.
Last month, Plant had three players declared ineligible in hardship cases, including the one for impermissible benefits, according to Arja.
At the time, there were no fines or suspensions because the players never participated in any games before their appeals, FHSAA associate executive director for administrative services Jamie Rohrer said.
Plant self-reported after investigating potential violations the FHSAA discovered regarding who needed living arrangements, according to a letter the school sent to the state’s governing body for sports on Sept. 26.
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The player has another hardship case to determine his eligibility Thursday in Bradenton.
This is the first time Plant’s football program has been in trouble with the FHSAA under Weiner.
In 16 seasons, Weiner has guided the Panthers to 14 district titles, four state titles and two runnerup finishes. Plant had a brutal early-season schedule. All five losses are to teams (Armwood, Gaither, Tampa Bay Tech, Bloomingdale, Washington D.C’s Gonzaga) that made the playoffs last year or are nationally ranked.
On Friday, the Panthers are not only trying to win their first game of the season but also working to keep two impressive streaks intact. Plant has won 14 straight district titles and has never dropped a district game during that stretch
Now the Panthers will have to do it without their longtime coach.
“There probably was a better way for us to have done this, that procedurally we didn’t follow everything to the letter of the law,” Weiner said. “But I also can stand here and honestly say, without any question, that we did not violate the educational athletic spirit and philosophy. What we’re trying to do was help a young man.”