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Preps

Major milestone

Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher can record his 100th career win against archrival Pasco

By BOB PUTNAM
Published October 22, 2004

ZEPHYRHILLS - Tom Fisher would like to fade from view.

That way, there would be none of the hugging, the wet eyes, the searching glances by friends, staff and players wanting to see if he was all right.

Better, there would be none of those invasive questions from reporters trying to tunnel under his reserve and unearth some sense of satisfaction:

What are your emotions, Tom?

How do you feel?

No, the Zephyrhills coach would give plenty to avoid what the 47th edition of the Pasco rivalry has become . . . an uppercase event:

FISHER GOES FOR 100th WIN!

If the Bulldogs beat their bitter district rival tonight, Fisher can reach the 100-win plateau. It is a milestone that would be a tribute to his career.

Does he enjoy it?

He would be the last one to say it.

"I'm trying not to even think about that," Fisher said. "This is a big game because it's in the district. You always want to win the district game. That's always the case, whether it's your first win or your 100th."

To the self-effacing Fisher, this is exactly what Zephyrhills did not need. The game against Pasco already is big enough. Both teams have one district loss and cannot afford another in what has become a four-team race.

Fisher would rather keep the focus on the game. He is not after any attention-grabbing ploy that might give his team an edge. He does not want a spectacle.

"It's Pasco. It's in the district. And he wants to win," said longtime assistant coach Bruce Cimorelli. "I'm sure anyone would like to get their 100th win. But I think he's more concerned about getting the team into the playoffs."

That's why Fisher has given the ultimate poker face when asked about his record.

"100 wins, huh?," Fisher said. "Yeah, I've heard that, at least that's what the reporters have been saying."

The achievement has not been a big deal at school because no one knows about it. Fisher has not said anything, not even to his wife, Gail.

"Really?," she said. "Wow! I never knew."

"That's the first I heard about it," Bulldogs running back Bryan Thomas said.

Cimorelli was about the only person who did. But that's because he overheard a radio announcer make a reference to it last week.

"I just don't think he pays much attention to those kind of things," Cimorelli said.

A man of few words, Fisher has remained a quiet winner who reveals little of himself to the public.

"Coach is just a quiet, down-to-earth guy who keeps to himself," Thomas said. "He doesn't really talk. In fact, I can't remember sitting down and having a big conversation with him. But that's just the way he is. I'm sure he's always been that way as a coach."

A former All-American at Bowling Green, Fisher came to Florida in 1977 and worked as an assistant coach at Bradenton Manatee for two years. From there, he went to Pasco (1980-83) before becoming the defensive coordinator at Zephyrhills.

As Bulldogs coach Barry Gardner's top assistant, Fisher was in charge of a unit that routinely ranked among the county's best. In 1988 Zephyrhills went 10-1 thanks to a defense that gave up 8.3 points per game.

The following year Gardner left to coach at Jacksonville Lee. Finally, after 13 years as an assistant, Fisher got his chance to be the man in charge.

Fisher wanted to put his own stamp on the program. He removed the names off the backs of the player's jersey's, ran short, intense practices and decided his best players would remain on the field.

The changes paid immediate dividends. Zephyrhills won the district title in 1989 for the first time.

"It's hard to say if there's a favorite team," Fisher said last year. "But for me, personally, it'd be the '89 team. My first year, winning the first district championship in school history. We scored more points than almost all the teams in the whole area, including the big boys down in Tampa. Our defense scored more points than all of our opponents combined."

Since then, the years and the wins have piled up. Tonight, Fisher can join Land O'Lakes John Benedetto as the only active county coaches with 100 wins.

"That would be something, wouldn't it," his wife, Gail, said.

As the clock winds down tonight, Fisher will most likely still be speaking softly into his headset and still be staring at a list of plays. And if Fisher happens to win, everyone will head for him as he heads to the middle of the field.

And if given the chance, Fisher will most likely deflect such praise.

To him, success can be fleeting. After all, there's the next game to worry about, another lineup of opposing players to dissect. And, of course, there's dreaded complacency to battle before it takes hold.

"It'd be nice to get that win for him," Thomas said. "He'll probably acknowledge it for a moment and move on to the next game. He just wants to win."

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 01:09:27]


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