SPC issues tend to single out assistants

Published October 1, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - After each time St. Petersburg Catholic was penalized for recruiting, an assistant coach with ties to the youth football community left the program.

Whether willing participants or unwitting scapegoats, assistants repeatedly have found themselves at the center of the controversy.

A big part of the growing problem is the presence of youth coaches and parents on high school staffs.

Not so coincidentally, their talented players soon follow, one member of the FHSAA board of directors said.

"We get a lot of neighborhood coaches get to high schools and (either ignore) the rules or (make) mistakes," said Roger Dearing, FHSAA board member and superintendent of Manatee County Public Schools. "It's happening more and more."

The ties and actions of at least one assistant - in the FHSAA's eyes - led to the $13,000 fine and three-year postseason ban SPC received this summer for three counts of recruiting and four counts of illegal practices.

The school will appeal this afternoon in Gainesville.

"You've got 365 high schools participating in FHSAA - how can 364 follow rules, and one continuously not?" Dearing said. "Something is not being done - they are not taking extraordinary efforts."

In 2001, an FHSAA investigation found assistant Shannon Brooks (now the head coach at Canterbury) guilty of recruiting players from Dixie Hollins and Northeast. That violated a one-year probation SPC received in 2000 for improper contact with a Gibbs player.

This spring, former assistant Willie Davis denied the FHSAA's claims that he helped recruit a Northeast player by offering him an SPC basketball sweatshirt.

According to FHSAA documents, Davis, father of Florida State receiver and former SPC quarterback Chris Davis, told a Northeast athlete that the SPC coaches "would love for him to attend St. Petersburg Catholic High School and (that) they would pay for school."

Davis denied the charge in an interview with the Times in May: "From the sounds of it, they are just going after people," he said, "just throwing me in there because I used to coach youth football (with the St. Petersburg 'Lil Devils)."

Brooks, who used to coach with the Northeast Bandits youth league, said there is a perception "that recruiting could be involved when you have assistant coaches with ties to youth leagues, especially when a kid transfers from another school. So that does lend some caution now that the issue of recruiting has come to such a head."

Brooks was retained by SPC after the FHSAA placed the school on probation in 2001. He said he left the following year because of a promotion with his job as a business analyst.

But he also feared his name would forever be besmirched because of his starring role in a murky saga.

"I was definitely worried that I would never get another shot in coaching," Brooks said. "Thankfully, Canterbury listened to my side of the story. I know that I've been cautious with my coaching staff (at Canterbury), and I do not have coaches with ties to youth leagues."

Other former SPC assistants have been involved in recruiting queries.

In 1998, Mark Nash was accused by then-St. Petersburg coach Dusty Boylson (now an assistant at Dixie Hollins) of trying to recruit Amos Phillips. Phillips played for Nash in the Azalea youth league.

SPC wasn't found guilty, but Nash left for Fort Pierce the next season.

"I never recruited anybody," said Nash, now the head coach at Hudson. "There was some turmoil there, and I left. I appreciate (former SPC coach Danny (Mancuso, who resigned Monday) for giving me my first coaching opportunity, but I don't want to get in the middle of anything over there."

In May, SPC assistant Rod Williams left the program after being involved with illegal practices.

In their defense, SPC's attorneys have argued, in part, that the rules regarding recruiting are vague, and in many cases, well-meaning parents unintentionally break the rules while talking positively of their school.

"Part of the problems are (that) we have a number of coaches who are, for all intents and purposes, volunteers who get paid modestly, if that," SPC attorney Robert Biasotti said. "They are people, in my view, who have the best intentions and think that what they're doing is nothing wrong."

Dearing, for one, disagrees.

"The rules of recruiting are far from vague," he said. "They are very clear - there's a whole policy on it in the back of the book."

Right or wrong, SPC administrators said they don't want what's plagued them in the past to resurface.

Athletic director Ann Marie Mancuso said Thursday the school is preparing to attempt a mass-education effort, clearing up the FHSAA rules with parents, coaches and faculty "so this doesn't happen again."

More recently, the FHSAA rule on recruiting has been detailed in the back of SPC's in-house newsletter."

"We're a Catholic organization - we're not interested in just meeting the minimum requirements of the rules," Biasotti said. "We should be a model for the neighbors, for the county - that's our goal.

"We're not trying to cheat or do anything improper. We need to obey the rules."