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10 pressing questions

The high school football season begins in less than three weeks. Leading up to preseason games, the Times will answer 10 pressing questions facing Pinellas schools.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

No. 1: Which first-year head coach has the best chance for immediate success?

If there is one thing county schools have had an abundance of over the years, it is stability in coaching. Twenty-three schools field varsity teams, yet this year is the first since 1994 that as many as four have new head coaches.

This spring, the coaching carousel fired into full rotation. Countryside coach Joe Ionata resigned, allowing Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis to move back into the public school scene after eight successful years.

Mike Jalazo, who first accepting a job at the new Freedom High in Tampa after three years at Admiral Farragut, found the CCC job quite attractive and grabbed it. Mark Robertson, after seven years at Landmark Christian in Haines City, accepted the job at Farragut.

Also, in a move unrelated to the other schools, James Adams stepped down at Pinellas Park and longtime assistant Luke Kademoff took over.

Interestingly, none of the coaches inherit downtrodden programs desperate for success. Three of the four teams made the playoffs last year, though Farragut, CCC and Pinellas Park were thumped in the first round 72-7, 45-0 and 28-7, respectively.

Only Countryside, at 3-7 with just one win after Sept. 18, had a disappointing season.

"All four programs have a chance to win," Jalazo said. "It's always tough when you come into a new situation, it takes time to get to know the kids. But all four have a shot."

Robertson got the latest start, arriving four days before Farragut's spring game.

He made up for lost time this week with an NFL-style camp, where the entire team stayed on campus for two-a-day and three-a-day practices.

"We've bombarded them with a lot of stuff this past week," Robertson said. "It's not polished but I think it will help us get off to a good start."

Kademoff readied himself for the Patriots' head job before officially getting it. He put together depth charts, just in case, and when the job did become his, he already knew the defense inside and out after working for years as the coordinator.

"It was an easy transition to make," Kademoff said. "It's just been a matter of small changes, some adjustments."

The biggest adjustments among the four teams will be made at Countryside, where Davis will install the same diverse offense that helped lead CCC to its county-best six-year playoff streak. He has an established running back in Isaiah Gwyn, but an inexperienced quarterback in T.J. Meyer. And a defense that must get better after allowing 365 yards per game last year.

Evaluation of CCC is difficult based on an injury-riddled 2001. Key personnel such as receiver/defensive back Lerue Rumph and fullback/linebacker Nick Capogna are healthy again, and quarterback Orlando Rivas is an established threat.

So, who makes the most out of his first year? Look for Jalazo and Robertson, based on returning players, to keep their teams in playoff form. Kademoff has a shot in the Patriots' four-team Class 5A, District 7. Davis' district, 4A-9, is too loaded to predict a playoff berth, but a return to .500 or better is not out of reach at Countryside.

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