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Coach leaves CCC for Countryside

John Davis is intrigued by moving to a larger public school and being reunited with two coaches from his past.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2002

John Davis walked into the locker room at Clearwater Central Catholic on Monday to tell his players the news: He was leaving the program he coached the past eight years to take over as coach at Countryside.

"The hardest thing is leaving your players," Davis said. "I tried to get through it without getting emotional, but it didn't take long for me to get choked up. CCC has been a good place for me and it's always hard to leave. I just felt the timing was right to take on a bigger challenge."

During his tenure with the Marauders, Davis guided the program to a 55-36 record and six consecutive playoff berths, currently the longest streak in the county.

Davis remained at CCC because the school was part of his family, past and present. He coached his son, Jay, an All-American quarterback from 1997-2000, and his youngest daughter, Laura, is a cheerleader and a senior-to-be.

But when Countryside called, Davis listened.

He said he became intrigued about going to a larger public school and being reunited with two coaches he worked with when he was at Lakewood, Bob Stephens and Liz Collins.

Stephens, a teacher at Pinellas Park, was the Spartans' head coach when Davis was an offensive coordinator from 1979-82, a span in which the Spartans lost just three regular-season games. Collins, the athletic director at Countryside, coached volleyball, basketball, track and cross country at Lakewood.

"I've known John for more than 20 years and he's always been a winner," said Collins, who chose Davis over 21 other applicants. "He has a great offensive mind and he comes with a full staff, which is a big plus."

Davis said he is bringing five CCC assistants with him -- Todd Pierce, Ron Ragland, Bart Roberson, Tom Murray and John Angelo. Filling out the staff is Stephens and three Countryside assistants who worked under former coach Joe Ionata -- Todd Belisle, Matt Lance and Art Harriel.

"One of the problems Countryside has had is continuity," said Davis, who becomes the school's fifth head coach in the past eight years. "I think we have a good staff here and we need to show the kids that we'll be around."

Meanwhile, CCC has to find a coach three weeks before spring practice begins. Athletic director Bob Cotter said he will give strong consideration to the remaining assistants, but the position will be open to outside candidates. The past four head coaches at CCC have been hired from within.

"It's hard to lose a quality coach like John," Cotter said. "But we'll continue to move on. We would like to get someone in here in time for spring football, but we don't just want to throw someone in there.

Now comes an even harder task for Davis. His first game as Countryside coach is May 28, a spring kickoff classic against CCC.

"I might just stand on the 50-yard-line for that one," Davis said. "I'm going to be trying to coach everyone on the field that night."

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