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Coach leaves as friend

Robert Weiner, who helped Crystal River baseball through tough times, becomes football coach at Plant.

DAWN REISS
Published May 13, 2004

CRYSTAL RIVER - For Robert Weiner, coaching has always been about the players.

For once he put himself first, resigning as baseball coach at Crystal River and accepting his first football head coaching position at Tampa's Plant High.

But he hopes all that has been built in a 10-month stint in Citrus County will not be left behind.

Wednesday afternoon, one day after losing in the regional quarterfinals, Weiner, 39, turned to the Pirates and said, "Well, boys, I have something to tell you."

That's as far as he got before choking back emotion.

"He didn't know how to tell us," senior Ryan Pearson said. "He just told us how another opportunity came along and how he decided to take it and all could think about was us."

"We really started to get attached to him," junior R.J. Cummings said. "It feels like I'm losing a good friend. He said if we ever need him, to talk to him or for anything, he'll come running and help us out in any way he can. He told us we had a friend for life.

"Because of Coach Weiner, I learned if you worked hard you can achieve your goals. He helped me to become a better man."

And the River changed because of it.

"He has been a very positive influence here," Crystal River athletic director Earl Bramlett said. "I understand he has taken a head football coaching job in Tampa. It's a big school, with more money, and he's from Tampa.

"He's done a great job for us. He's a positive influence on people and has their best interest at heart and sincerely cares about all of his players."

Weiner replaces Darlee Nelson at Plant.

Thanks to scandals under former coach Brent Hall that emerged in May 2003 and put Crystal River on administrative probation until August, Weiner took over a program full of hurt. After Hall led Crystal River to an 83-15 record during the 2001-03 seasons, including two district titles and a trip to the Class 3A final four in 2002, Weiner took the Pirates (17-12) to the opening round of the quarterfinals, where they lost 9-0 to Ridgewood on Tuesday.

Change and improvement can't always be calculated in a statistical formula.

"I've learned a lot about accepting change," said Pearson, whose broken left arm knocked him out for six weeks. "How to be a better leader, about commitment and responsibility. Coach said the game of life is just played inside the lines. You can only worry about the stuff you can control; just let the things out of your hands fall into place."

It was in late January or early February when Weiner put his name in the ring. The football coaching position was left vacant in December when Nelson resigned after a 1-9 season. That's when Weiner, an assistant football coach at Jesuit for 15 years, started getting phone calls from friends and others involved at Plant imploring him to go.

"When this job opened up I tried to make the administration know there is no more qualified individual than Bob Weiner," said Plant baseball coach Bo Puckett, who coached with Weiner at Jesuit from 1996-2002. "It is an upgrade to the whole Plant High School athletic administration. It's a blessing for us.

"He is very caring and has a heart of a gold. He understands how to bring out the best in people."

That was before the baseball season started and emotional attachments became high. Though Weiner said he had turned down four other head coaching positions, this was different.

"I'm not an assistant who throws my hat in every time," Weiner said.

"I can't ever say I've had a burning desire to be a head coach; if I had died and not been a head coach, I would not have been unfulfilled. The best way to be use my talents is to teach how to do things the right way. Being a head coach is just a new avenue."

When Dominic Ciao stepped down as football coach at Jesuit last summer, Weiner was thought to be a frontrunner, but the Tigers hired Bill Schmitz, a coach with vast college experience but little in high school.

Weiner, a 1983 Jesuit graduate, served as an assistant baseball coach there from 1996-2003, becoming a part of three state title teams. He also was an assistant football coach from 1988-2002.

After pondering and sorting, Weiner came to a verbal agreement to accept the position at Plant with the understanding that an announcement would not be made until after the baseball season.

"It had nothing to do with my experience here at Crystal River," Weiner said. "Sometimes you just go with what feels right.

"I'm a guy who always puts other people's concerns in front of mine. I would have never left Crystal River unless for something I felt like was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

That chance gave the Crystal River baseball team a year to experience something new.

"I really I have faith in kids," Weiner said, "which the rest of the world doesn't. They give it back to you tenfold, and that's when they have the best opportunity to give back to the community. The first minute they met you they will know if you are genuine and they know you care. I hope my kids knew that from the first moment."

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