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Alonso hires NFL assistant as its first coach

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001


Some people might consider John Fontes crazy. Heck, he has considered the possibility himself.

But there were only so many times he could look into his wife's eyes and ask for one more chance. One more moving van rental, one more scouring of the housing market in a new city, one more coaching position.

That last chance came Wednesday when Fontes was named Alonso's first football coach. Lee Meitzler, a former assistant at Hillsborough, was hired as Fontes' first assistant.

"When I saw this opportunity come around, I thought to myself that I might be a fool, but I had to jump at this," said Fontes, who is leaving his job as linebackers coach with the Minnesota Vikings to coach the first-year school. "My wife and I have been married for 23 years, and she's been a trooper the whole time. The last move to the Vikings was the last straw. She looked at me and said, 'I think it's time to go home. Can we make this the last move?' I couldn't say no."

Fontes' arrival is a bit of a homecoming for him and his wife, Therese.

Fontes, whose older brother and former Detroit Lions coach Wayne lives in Tarpon Springs, first met Therese when he was in Tampa on a recruiting trip for Oregon State in the late 70s.

He later served as defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Storm in 1991, the year the Arena Football team won its first title. Ironically, Bob Gries, who Gaither hired as coach two weeks ago, was the owner of the team at the time.

Fontes has a long, winding coaching history.

After graduating from Iowa, where he played outside linebacker for two years before suffering a career-ending knee injury, he was the defensive coordinator at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High. In three years, a team that was 0-8 before Fontes arrived went 26-4.

After coaching at Oregon State for three years, he quit football to work for Levi Strauss & Co. and get married.

Fontes returned to coach at Northwestern, Miami, LSU, the Storm, Central Florida and the Sacramento Surge of the World League before coaching for the Lions from 1992-96 and the Vikings in 2000.

That resume made Fontes stand out from a crowded field, Alonso athletic director Louis Diaz said.

"He's got coaching experience since 1973, a myriad of football coaching experience in pro ball, college, high school," Diaz said. "He's an interesting guy, and I think he understands the task he is facing this year. We are very pleased with John Fontes coming to Alonso."

BASEBALL: Don't expect former Plant coach Pat Russo to resurface at Blake, athletic director Frank Oliver said.

Russo, whose contract was not renewed at Plant, met with Blake principal David Best on Friday to inquire about the Yellow Jackets' job. But the position is not open, Oliver said.

Robert Leffler, who led Blake to a school-best five wins in his first season, will remain, Oliver said Wednesday.

"He's done a good job for us," Oliver said. "We sat down and talked about some things we hoped would come about for the next season. We're very satisfied with Robert."

Blake, however, will advertise for its boys and girls basketball positions. Former boys coach Dennis Donaldson recently accepted the same position at Alonso. Ex-girls coach Rudy Toth will head up the physical education department at Alonso.

- Times Staff Writer Frank Pastor contributed to this report.

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