Coach will see the game from both sides now

Pasco High's new football coach hails from archrival Wesley Chapel.

Published January 25, 2007

DADE CITY - A once-bitter rivalry has taken an odd turn.

Tom McHugh was hired Monday to revive Pasco High School's football program after spending the past nine years as defensive coordinator at archenemy Wesley Chapel.

McHugh, 49, is expected to breathe life into a locker room void of discipline and to rally a community with declining faith in Pasco football.

He replaces Dale Caparaso, who was forced out Nov. 28 after two playoff appearances and two losing seasons.

McHugh said he will meet with his new team Friday and begin searching for assistants immediately.

An official meet-and-greet is planned Feb. 8 at Beef O'Brady's in Dade City.

McHugh said he was eager to get started. "You get a brand new car and you want to see how it drives," he said. "It's all good feelings and a new beginning."

The search lasted almost two months while Pasco administrators checked the references of its four finalists. They picked McHugh because of his character, his emphasis on discipline and his belief in promoting strong academics.

"We wanted to be sure," Pasco athletic director Jim Ward said. "We want him to get the program rolling and we want the community back."

This is McHugh's first head coaching job in varsity football, which pays $4,476 this year. He held the top job in the mid 1990s at Weightman Middle School, where he won three conference titles and lost just two games in three seasons.

"There's been opportunities all over the county for years to apply for other jobs," McHugh said. "I never really thought about doing that until this job came open.

"That school has some sort of a draw for me."

McHugh has strong ties to Dade City. He lived there for 20 years, and his oldest daughter, Jennifer, graduated from Pasco. He also coached softball there in the late 1990s.

McHugh was the first assistant that coach John Castelamare hired at Wesley Chapel. He was the defensive coordinator after their first meeting during a River Ridge track meet.

One hour of talking turned into a nine-year friendship. "If I had to name a hero, John would be it," McHugh said.

"I'll be standing across the field from a guy I consider to be a mentor. It's hard to anticipate what the feelings will be. Of course, I want to beat him. I don't like to lose at anything."

McHugh said leaving Weightman for an assistant post at Wesley Chapel was part of his natural progression.

Castelamare ran the offense and McHugh ran the defense. They collected a solid core of assistants who helped build the Wildcats into a power led by top athletes, including Tyrone Tomlin and Danny Tolley.

"We're sorry to see Tom leave," Castelamare said. "He's been with me since the beginning. I remember when it was us, six footballs and that's it."

McHugh said he went through some soul-searching about leaving his mentor. "I really enjoyed working with Castelamare at Wesley Chapel," McHugh said.

"I couldn't imagine having a better mentor as far as experience, character and morality, the way he treats the kids and the respect he earns from them."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@sptimes.com or (727) 580-5315.

Fast Facts:

Tom McHugh

Born: July, 14, 1957

High school: Miramar High School, Miramar.

College: Associate's degree from Trident Technical College, Charleston, S.C.; bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida.

Currently: Science teacher at Dr. John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel.

Football coaching experience: Assistant (Stewart Middle, 1994), head coach (Weightman Middle, 1996-98), assistant (Wesley Chapel High, 1998-2007).

Family: Wife, Susan, and three daughters, Jennifer, 25, Meaghan, 23, and Brenna, 21.