By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001
TAMPA -- When Pat Russo's contract was not renewed at Plant, he reacted like one of his players caught in a rundown.
He scrambled like crazy to get back to a base.
Russo solicited advice from Blake principal and close friend David Best. He looked into openings at Robinson, Leto, Hillsborough and Brandon. He considered an offer from his cousin, Ron Brown, to be an assistant at Wharton.
Then he broke for home.
Deciding to stay close to South Tampa -- where he recently built a house and his wife, Trisha, is pregnant with the couple's first child -- Russo on Monday accepted Hillsborough's offer to become its new coach.
He succeeds John Earley, who resigned two weeks ago for personal reasons.
"I was really excited," Russo said. "It's tough when you put in a lot of heart and soul for six years at a place and, for reasons, they let you go. I was interested in coaching high school ball for the long haul, and I'm excited they offered me the job where I want to be at."
Russo, 33, will continue to work in operations in the school system. He will be paid a $1,700 supplemental coaching salary.
He brings the entire coaching staff -- Paul Russo, Carl Guggino, Vince Scanio and Lenny Guida -- that helped him go 96-47 in six seasons at Plant.
Russo also raised $233,000 for Plant's program and helped 34 players earn scholarships.
K.R. Lombardia, Hillsborough's assistant principal for administration and athletic director, said Russo was the most experienced of a handful of candidates who interviewed. "What he did at Plant, I think, speaks for itself," Lombardia said.
"He had a nice complex and turned it into a great complex. We need that at our place. He sent a lot of kids to school, had a few kids drafted, and I think he'll bring us back to where we belong."
Russo learned April 27 that his Plant contract would not be renewed. Principal Eric Bergholm wanted to tie the job to a teaching position, athletic director Laura Figueredo said.
Lombardia, who taught Russo's physical education class when both were at West Tampa Junior High, said Russo's off-campus job will not be an issue at Hillsborough.
"I don't think there's a principal in this county who doesn't want a coach on campus," Lombardia said. "But sometimes, it's a necessary evil because of the times we live in."
Russo hopes to restore Hillsborough to its past prominence, when it won three state championships and players such as Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield donned its uniform.
The school recently installed Bermuda grass on its field and put up a new outfield fence. Lights and a new press box also are in the works.
"There's tradition there," Russo said. "Maybe I'm going to the oldest schools in town and trying to bring them back."