Hillsborough High ousts baseball coach

Amid rumors of recruiting, Pat Russo, who recently took the Terriers to state, is fired.

Published September 1, 2006

TAMPA - Four months after leading his team to the Class 5A final and two days after it was announced his team was under investigation for possible recruiting violations, Hillsborough High baseball coach Pat Russo was fired.

The decision came Thursday morning in a meeting with Russo, Hillsborough principal William Orr and athletic director Bertha Baker. The status of Russo's assistants is unknown.

"Dr. Orr asked me if I wanted to resign," said Russo, who is not a full-time teacher at Hillsborough but had coached the baseball team five seasons. "I said, 'No,' and Dr. Orr said if that was the case then he would have to fire me. ... Dr. Orr did what he thought he had to do with the pieces of paper that someone had turned in on me. Now it's my job to prove those pieces of paper wrong. I haven't had my due process, and I'm going to investigate with my attorney and get my due process. I'm not done with this."

Orr and Baker could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Baker said Wednesday that the allegations against Russo were "just brought to our attention" by an outside source.

Hillsborough pitching coach Marcus Garcia said he heard the dismissal might have had something to do with Russo coaching a summer-league team that included players from all over the county. Eyebrows might have been raised, Garcia said, when a couple of those players from other schools enrolled at Hillsborough this fall.

"But it absolutely is not what people think," Garcia said. "I've been with Pat for four years and I've heard it over and over again about how we're (recruiting) players, and it simply is not true. The truth is everybody wants to come and play at Hillsborough. Shoot, I get calls myself from kids asking to come play at Hillsborough. I tell them, well, if you want to do that then you need to go through the proper channels. And that's it. That's the extent of it."

Hillsborough rising senior Matt Schurig, who went 16-0 and won the state semifinal over then-No. 1 Naples Barron Collier, said he was "shocked, disappointed and angry" when he heard the news.

"I don't want to play for anybody but Coach Russo," Schurig said. "He brings so much energy to the team and he knew how to handle our players. I don't know if a new coach can come in here and have the chemistry we had with Coach Russo. We had really high hopes for this upcoming season and this could just kill it."

Along with Schurig, the Terriers return outfielder Michael Burgess, who won the AFLAC national high school player of the year award in August after hitting more than .400 through the season and smacking a 460-foot home run in the state final.

"We wanted to go back there and win the whole thing," Schurig said. "We really believed we could do it. Now? I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Hillsborough, which won the prestigious Saladino baseball tournament in the spring, finished the 2006 season 30-5 before losing to Pace in the final.

For the moment, Russo said he was going to enjoy the Labor Day weekend with his family. On Tuesday he said he would return and begin his quest for "due process."