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Plant High coach Robert Weiner leaves for college job

After 16 mostly successful seasons with the Panthers, Weiner is heading to Toledo.
During his 16 seasons at Plant, Robert Weiner celebrated often, especially during the playoffs. [Times]
During his 16 seasons at Plant, Robert Weiner celebrated often, especially during the playoffs. [Times]

Robert Weiner has been offered lucrative high school coaching jobs in other states. He even had the opportunity to advance to the college level as an assistant.

The longtime Plant High football coach turned down each of those openings, always saying his heart belonged to the program that he turned into a state powerhouse.

Once again, Weiner was wooed with another enticing position. This time, the circumstances were right for him to take it.

On Thursday morning, Weiner told players, coaches and parents that he was leaving to become an assistant at a Division I-A university. Though Weiner did not name the university, he is heading to Toledo, likely as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Weiner, 55, said he has been offered at least one college job each of the past seven years, including a previous one from Toledo. He declined to take them because there was always another title-contending team to coach.

“The first time Toledo offered was around 2016,” Weiner said. “We had a great group coming back that could make a run at the state title. And that’s the problem. I love all the kids, but every year you’re going to have kids you want to stick around for, to see all the way through. For me, it had to be the right situation. Age also was a factor. How often at 55 do you get to hit the reset button and kind of reinvigorate yourself?”

This is the second time in the past three years a Hillsborough County head coach has taken a job as an assistant in the Mid-American Conference. In December 2018, Bloomingdale’s Max Warner left to become the quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green.

Weiner’s extensive knowledge of the area also will help the Rockets continue their success of landing local prospects. Toledo currently has seven area players on the roster and will add Clearwater Academy’s Geri Theodore, who signed last month during the early period for the 2020 class.

“I leave with a heavy heart, but no regrets in what we tried to do and what we were able to accomplish,” Weiner told those who attended the meeting inside the school’s field house.

In 16 seasons, Weiner went 172-37 and led the Panthers to four state titles (2006, ‘08, ‘09, ‘11) and two state runnerup finishes (2010, ‘16).

The quarterbacks Weiner groomed are as much a part of the program’s mythology as the black and gold uniforms. From Robert Marve (Miami/Purdue) to Aaron Murray (Georgia) to Phillip Ely (Alabama/Toledo) to Tucker Gleason (Georgia Tech), the school has produced highly touted quarterbacks as if they were part of an assembly line.

Plant quarterback James Few weeps as he embraces coach Robert Weiner at the conclusion of the Class 8A state final against Miramar on Dec. 17, 2011, in Orlando. Plant won 31-20. [Times]

Even Jon Gruden said, somewhat jokingly, that he would borrow from Weiner’s playbook during a news conference to announce that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach was returning to the Raiders.

All of that made Weiner an attractive coaching candidate at all levels.

“This was the right move,” said Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, who has the longest tenure in the area at 27 seasons. “Robert has accomplished everything there is at this level. What else can he do?”

Weiner has given strong consideration to leaving before. Six years ago, the University of South Florida was set to name Weiner as its receivers coach with an emphasis on recruiting the area.

Related: The reason powerhouse Plant missed a full week of practice in pads

His attachment to Plant, though, was too much to overcome. Two days after reading his resignation letter to players and parents, Weiner decided to remain with the Panthers. Many wondered if the change of heart would hurt his chances of moving on to the next level in the future.

“I’m completely fine with that,” Weiner said at the time.

It was tough to leave behind what he had already assembled.

The longtime Jesuit assistant took over a Plant program in 2004 that had not had a winning season in a dozen years. After going 3-7 in his first season, Weiner led the Panthers to 14 straight district titles.

His four state titles are the most of any bay area coach in the modern era (1963-present).

Weiner made an impact off the field, too. He spends every summer at a Muscular Dystrophy Association camp. His players have been counselors the past 15 years, many of whom list those experiences among the highlights of their high school careers.

But this past season was perhaps the toughest Weiner ever had to endure at Plant.

Related: Plant High football coach Robert Weiner wins last appeal, has fine overturned

In September, Weiner and Misty Winter, the program’s director of football operations, each received six-week suspensions, and the two were fined a combined $10,000 by the Florida High School Athletic Association, in large part for providing impermissible benefits to a player.

Both had their fines and suspensions either reduced or wiped away after the FHSAA determined there were no recruiting violations with either one regarding the football program.

Robert Weiner remains in touch with his former players, like Tampa Bay Vipers' quarterback Aaron Murray. Weiner's work with quarterbacks at the prep level helped lead to Plant's sustained playoff success. [Tampa Bay Vipers]

On the field, the Panthers struggled to maintain their dominance. They started 0-6 before winning their final four games. By then, it was too late. Plant had its first losing season and missed the playoffs for the first time since Weiner’s debut as coach.

There were also personal losses. Last month, Weiner’s father, Roland, died.

A day later, an emotional Weiner spoke during the signing ceremony for quarterback Tucker Gleason, who is heading to Georgia Tech. Weiner talked about the importance of family, about caring and holding on to those closest to you.

Now, Weiner is saying goodbye to his family at Plant.

He did not read a resignation letter this time, in part because he did not know if he could get through another one without crying. Still, the tears started flowing as Weiner talked about how tough the past two weeks have been and the difficulties of trying something new.

Afterward, players, past and present, lined up in the field house to say farewell to their beloved coach.

“I knew about his decision a few weeks ago,” Gleason said. "It makes it somewhat easier knowing that I’m leaving for Georgia Tech (on Friday) and Coach is leaving soon after. (Weiner) has been like a second father to me. I’ve probably spent more time with him the past few years than my family. He’s helped me in so many ways.

“It’s going to be sad to see him no longer wearing the back and gold on the sidelines here at Plant, but I’m excited for him and know that this will be a good step in his coaching career.”

Weiner drove to Jacksonville on Thursday night to watch some of his former players now at Indiana take on Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. On Friday, he planned to have dinner with Gleason in Atlanta. After that, Weiner will head to Toledo.

“I’m in my car making this drive, just me and my thoughts,” Weiner said. “The last time I took a college job I was close to home. It was easier to decide to stay. This time, it would take an awfully long time to turn around and come home."