TAMPA — Cyril Brockmeier spent Monday afternoon making the rounds inside Plant High’s media center. He went from table to table, shaking hands with players and parents before illustrating his vision for how to keep the school’s football program among the area’s — and the state’s — elite.
After years of working as an assistant at the college and high school ranks, Brockmeier finally had his breakthrough, becoming the successor to legendary coach Robert Weiner, now the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at the University of Toledo.
But even in this monumental moment, Brockmeier’s thoughts turned to the one person missing: Leon Brockmeier.
The Panthers’ new coach struggled to hold back the flood of memories from 2013. That was when his younger brother stayed a few days in the hospital for minor foot surgery due to an infection. Leon never came home. He was 33 when he died.
“I was thinking about (Leon) a lot today,” Cyril said. “I always do.”
They were supposed to enjoy this occasion together. Football was their bond, the means to attend college. Money was tight. So were living arrangements. The two, along with six other siblings, slept in family rooms, a garage, wherever they could find a bed or a blanket.
Cyril played at Tulane (1992-97) under coach Buddy Teevens. After graduating, he embarked on a coaching career that included stops at Stanford, Dartmouth, even a return to his alma mater.
Leon became a star offensive lineman at Northwestern, helping the program win the 2000 Big Ten title. He briefly played for the Pittsburgh Steelers before being released.
After moving to Tampa about a decade ago, Cyril was coaxed into coaching on the varsity squad at Plant. He was enamored with the program, so much that he convinced his brother to join the staff.
“He was going to come here to be with me,” Cyril said. “Then he died. It was sudden.”
Cyril paused Monday before grabbing a few napkins to wipe his eyes. “It’s still tough,” he said.
Cyril stepped away from coaching to be there for his brother’s family. “It was important to be there for the boys (Leon had three sons), to give them and the family some stability,” he said. “It’s what I had to do at the time.”
He could not stay away for long. “Coaching — it’s just addicting.”
In 2017, he returned to the Panthers, this time guiding the junior varsity team. The time he spent developing players at the grassroots level of the powerhouse program endeared him to coaches, nearly all of whom endorsed him as the leading candidate to replace Weiner.
The veterans on the team are also among Cyril’s biggest fans.
“(Cyril) knows the Plant culture and what we’re made of,” said kicker/receiver Baldwin Barnes, a rising senior. “He’s technically sound and just a great guy who we all felt would be perfect to start a new chapter with.”
After a month-long search, the list of applicants was whittled down to Cyril and Clearwater coach Don Mesick. Plant, hoping to maintain continuity, officially hired Cyril on Friday. Weiner returned that day to introduce his successor at the team banquet.
“Cyril is an amazing football mind, an incredible human being, and highly qualified to navigate through the unique landscape of Plant High School and the awesome community of South Tampa,” Weiner said. “He will be able to stamp the program with his own personality but continue the vision of the Plant football family that kids come first with an emphasis on character and academics with excellence on the field. I am so pleased that Plant football will remain Plant football for years to come.”
Cyril might have the most difficult job of anyone in the area. In 16 seasons, Weiner went 172-37 and led the Panthers to four state titles (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011) and two state runnerup finishes (2010, 2016).
As if that was not enough, Cyril inherits a program that endured a tumultuous 2019 season. The Panthers went 4-6, their first losing season since 2004, which was also Weiner’s first season.
“I’m not Coach Weiner,” Cyril said. “I’ll take a good part of who he is and what I learned on the field with him. But it’ll be a little bit of me and what I’ve taken from all the coaches I’ve been with.
“A lot has been put on my plate the last two or three days, but I’m going to hit the ground running.”
He’ll have plenty of support, including his brother’s family. They all attend Plant games.
“They’re part of this program,” Cyril said. “My brother is, too.”