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Side-effects of a shuffle in coaching

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Scott Schmitz was the football coach at River Ridge.

Now he's the football coach at Mitchell.

Phil Bell was the baseball coach at Gulf.

Now he's the baseball coach at Mitchell.

Steve Knobl was the girls golf coach at River Ridge.

Now he's the girls golf coach at Mitchell -- oh, and he'll coach girls basketball, too.

Of course you realize: This ... means ... war.

A cold war. In west Pasco County. An undeclared but already simmering contest being waged behind the scenes for the most valuable athletic resource.

No, not athletes. Coaches.

That sound heard Wednesday was another domino falling.

That's when Mitchell announced more hires. That they all came from west-side schools, that they are known quantities, is a crucial trend to watch.

Schmitz, Bell, Knobl ... who will be next? Who will coach boys basketball? Soccer? Volleyball?

Most likely, they will be known quantities. Skilled, respected, dedicated up-and-comers, most likely from a west Pasco program, looking to improve their situations for whatever reason.

Perhaps they're looking for a new challenge. Maybe a change of scenery, especially the pleasant kind that comes with relocating to a new school and new facilities; free of crumble, decay and the spray-painted musings of the local punditry.

Then again, perhaps they'll make the move because it would be foolish not to, because they see the writing on the wall.

Mitchell will draw from some of the county's most affluent areas -- rapidly growing Trinity, for example. Those students bring with them parents and boosters with the kind of resources to add all kinds of extras to a program that not every school can afford. Add that to shiny new facilities and proven coaches, and Mitchell starts out with a built-in edge.

Now there's nothing wrong with Mitchell choosing from the best; there's nothing wrong with coaches upgrading their careers and situations.

But the unintended consequences are worrisome.

If Mitchell starts drawing in all of these coaches, what happens to the schools, the programs, the athletes, they leave behind?

At River Ridge, a capable and deserving replacement for Schmitz was already in place. But Mike DeGennaro faces a far greater quandary than anything Schmitz faced when he first poured the foundation for Royal Knight football a decade ago.

As Hudson undercut Gulf football; as Ridgewood undercut Hudson and Gulf; as River Ridge undercut Ridgewood and Hudson and Gulf; as Wesley Chapel undercut Pasco and Zephyrhills; so too is Mitchell destined to undercut River Ridge's student and coaching base. There's already a custody fight on for Schmitz's former River Ridge assistants.

No wonder Land O'Lakes owns this county. Say offensive line coach Tom Carter were to coach a new high school nearby. Say he took a share of Gator head coach John Benedetto's assistants and players with him. Would Land O'Lakes still dominate Pasco County football? Still dominate boys' athletics?

If Mitchell has its pick of the west's top coaches, who replaces them? If openings are created at River Ridge, then wouldn't the logical successors come from Gulf and Hudson? What do those schools do?

How many DeGennaros are out there? Not every program has a capable assistant ready to seize the day. Undoubtedly many potential coaches are ready to take over. But are there enough qualified, enough ready, to do so?

Let's not even open the Pandora's Box of school choice. Okay, let's. Which athletes will try to follow their respective coaches? Which coaches will discreetly encourage such behavior? What then?

As usual, the biggest losers will be those schools who can least afford it: Gulf and Hudson.

As if Gulf football coach Keith Newton's program needed more bad news. He has lost Bill Linderman, hired as River Ridge's boys basketball coach, and Bell. Incidentally, Linderman replaces Ian Mooney, who is athletic director at Mitchell. And Linderman joined DeGennaro's football staff at River Ridge, which is minus Mooney.

Dominoes. Get it?

The next one falls this week.

-- Jamal Thalji, who covers Pasco County sports for the Times, has not been asked to apply for any coaching vacancies. He can be reached at (352) 521-5757, ext. 25; or at thalji@sptimes.com.

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