TAMPA — Former Jefferson High football coach Mike Fenton, who led the Dragons to a 15-0 season and the Class 3A state title in 2010, died Monday of natural causes.
A married father of twin stepsons, Mr. Fenton, 65, was serving as offensive coordinator at Chamberlain High at the time of his death. Chiefs coach Jason Lane said his final play call, in a 35-6 loss Friday to Hillsborough, was a touchdown.
“He was just a kid from Tampa, Fla., that loved football,” former Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
A local spread offense pioneer, Mr. Fenton mentored two quarterbacks — Tampa Catholic’s Kenny Kelly and Jefferson’s Quentin Williams — who set Florida’s all-time prep passing-yardage records during their respective careers. Another, Jefferson’s Stephen Garcia, threw for more than 8,000 yards.
“He was spreading people out before it became popular,” said Callahan, who employed Mr. Fenton as Hawks offensive coordinator in the early 1990s. “He made every defense that played against him defend every blade of grass on the field.”
A Tampa Catholic alumnus, Mr. Fenton cut his coaching teeth under legendary Robinson coach Randy Smith in the late 1970s, and logged stints at no fewer than four other schools before landing at Jefferson in 1999. His gruff exterior shrouded a deep compassion for his players.
As an offensive coordinator for close friend Bob Henriquez, he oversaw the prolific Tampa Catholic offenses of the mid-1990s that featured Kelly (who later played two seasons at Miami) and receiver Darrell Jackson (who played nine seasons in the NFL).
“Just very creative in his pass concepts, getting them to spread it out and things of that nature,” said current TC coach Jeris McIntyre, a 1999 graduate of the school who became a Chiefs sixth-round draft pick in 2004. “I just think that he was really a well-rounded coach when it came to the details and just kind of seeing the field.”
At Jefferson, he served as offensive coordinator on the Dragons teams that reached state title games in 2002 and 2004 before replacing Mike Simmonds as head coach in 2006.
In five seasons, he amassed a 46-17 record. The 2010 calendar year dawned with the death of his mom (on New Year’s Day) and ended with a 44-34 win against Miami Norland at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 18. That Dragons team totaled 746 points (then a state single-season record), and Williams was named Florida’s Mr. Football.
Three months later, at the Dragons’ team banquet, Fenton announced he was retiring from coaching. He soon resurfaced, however, helping out again at Tampa Catholic and Chamberlain.
“He was a great man,” McIntyre said. “He was definitely hard-nosed, no-nonsense, kind of get-after-it coach, and that really helped myself, I’m sure along with others. But he definitely underneath was a great guy to be around. Had jokes for days, stories for days, He’ll definitely be missed.”
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