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Parting ways is never easy

Jeff Laing's dream of coaching Hernando hoops is at an end and he's uncertain about next step.

By DAVID MURPHY
Published March 6, 2007


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Day Four of the end of the era was spent driving back from Orlando. Jeff Laing was at the wheel, headed through the forest that sits along S.R. 50. Normally, in this space, his name would be preceded by, "Hernando boys basketball coach."

But, as Laing said with a chuckle, the era is over.

"I've never quit anything in my life," he said. "So it is a new feeling for me."

Laing and the Leopards parted ways after six years Friday. As these things go, it was labeled a resignation. But, Laing admits, he entered his end-of-season meetings with athletic director Brent Gaustad and principal Betty Harper hoping for at least one more year.

"It seemed like, unfortunately, that this was perhaps the right decision," Laing said. "Again, I'm true to my school. I'm not selfish enough to put myself ahead of the program."

That sentiment is not surprising, at least when you take into account Laing's history. He was a member of the 1987 Hernando team that tied a school record with 25 wins, and as soon as he graduated from Central Florida he returned home.

He was an assistant for eight years before finally getting a chance to accept the only job he ever wanted.

"That's what's tough," Laing said. "Everything I did was in preparation for this job."

He says he was convinced he was the man to rejuvenate a program that hadn't won a playoff game since 1967. But the Leopards went to the postseason just once under Laing and won just 25 combined games in the past three seasons.

Truth be told, it is difficult to pin the blame entirely on Laing. Hernando, once the pre-eminent athletic program in the county, has struggled in most team sports recently. The school has coaching vacancies in both boys and girls basketball. In the past year, it has hired a new football coach, new baseball coach, new girls soccer coach and new girls tennis coach.

Only two coaches have been at the school longer than a year: boys soccer/boys tennis coach Tony Miziko and cross country coach Ernie Chatman.

Neither Laing nor Gaustad could remember a year in which there was so much coaching turnover.

"Anybody who has been around athletics long enough has seen that things go in cycles," Laing said. "Schools go in cycles."

Where Laing's cycle takes him has yet to be determined. He is the school's junior varsity baseball coach. And while he said he would consider other offers, he admitted it would be difficult to leave the only place he had ever call home.

For now, he'll follow Hernando basketball as a spectator.

"I think it's a shame," Springstead coach Craig Swartout said. "He's a good coach. He brought a lot of class, a lot of character to the county basketball programs."

But Laing said he prefers to look at the positives.

"I really have enjoyed my time, and, more than anything, the opportunity to develop the boys into young men - and that goes beyond the wins and losses," Laing said.

"Ultimately, coaches are judged on wins and losses, but I've really enjoyed my time and the relationships I've built with the guys that have come through my program."

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848-1407.

[Last modified March 5, 2007, 23:10:48]


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