GAINESVILLE — The Florida High School Athletic Association reduced the suspensions for Plant High football coach Robert Weiner and director of football operations Misty Winter from six weeks to three at an appeals hearing on Wednesday. Both had received suspensions and fines for providing impermissible benefits to a player.
Last month, Weiner said he discovered that one of his players was in an “untenable living situation.” The coach asked Winter to make some calls and find the player a temporary home, which turned out to be with someone connected to the Panthers’ program.
The Plant High football player at the heart of this issue won his sectional appeal last week at a hearing in Bradenton. He was immediately cleared to play after presenting new information to help him regain eligibility. The person he is living with has now become his legal guardian.
The change in the player’s status swayed the FHSAA to lighten the penalties but not completely eliminate the suspensions.
"We were pleased with the reduction but we were hoping that the rest of the suspension would have been waived in light of the recognition of the fulfillment of the FHSAA rules about the ‘spirit and philosophy of educational athletics,’” Weiner said. “Clearly all intentions were in the best interest of a student in need, and in keeping with the spirit intended within these rules.”
Plant self-reported the incident, but the FHSAA determined last week there was a violation of rules. According to the organization’s football manual, student-athletes are not allowed to receive special treatment that is not afforded to other students at the school.
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.
Weiner has still been able to conduct practices, but cannot attend games. Former Plant City coach Greg Meyer served as the interim coach for last week’s game against Steinbrenner and will remain in that role for the next two weeks. The Panthers (0-6) lost 49-0 to the Warriors, ending their 14-year unbeaten streak in district games. In 16 seasons, Weiner had guided the Panthers to 14 district titles, four state titles and two runnerup finishes.
On Wednesday, Weiner presented his case along with Plant athletic director Lauren Otero, who recently became the president-elect of the FHSAA’s board of directors. Otero said Weiner would have done the same for any student, regardless of whether he or she played sports.
Weiner and Winter were seeking to reduce their suspensions. The fines remain.
In years past, the FHSAA simply fined coaches or schools for providing impermissible benefits. But the state organization wanted to really crack down on violators and added a six-week suspension this year.
The only other coach to receive the maximum suspension under the new rule was an assistant coach at Miami Central, said Craig Damon, the associate director for eligibility and compliance services.
This is not the first time an area coach has provided living arrangements for a player. Former Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle had one of his standouts live with him for a few months in 2017. Earle was suspended for three games and fined $5,000 by the FHSAA for opening his home.
Earle resigned as the Dragons coach following that season and left his position as a driver’s education teacher at the school following the 2017-18 school year, though he said the decision had nothing to do with the player who needed help.
“The rule is the rule, black and white,” Earle said at the time. “But I would do it again. It was the human thing to do.”
This spring, Nature Coast’s Kinyatah Morgan ran out of options to stay in Brooksville — and remain at the school he loved. So Sharks coach Cory Johns decided to make Morgan part of his family by gaining legal custody of the defensive back.
It was a lengthy process. Johns said he was upfront with the FHSAA about Morgan’s situation from the beginning. Morgan was held out of spring drills and was not cleared to play until late August.
“These situations happen more than you think,” Johns said this week. "The player is going to come to his coach before a guidance counselor because that’s who he is going to trust. It can put you in a bind. The rules don’t allow you to do too much. Even giving a kid a ride home is viewed as an impermissible benefit.
“But we’re here to help kids. So I can understand the difficulty in what Coach Weiner went through."