By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
WESLEY CHAPEL -- John Castelamare is too nice a guy to say it, so I will:
The best decision of his football life was made by Art O'Donnell, who decided not to hire Castelamare for the Ridgewood job in 1998.
I wrote then that Cas should not get the job, for reasons some thought were a bit harsh -- he'd had his chance. In 12 years at Ridgewood, Cas posted 11 losing seasons and won just seven games his last three years. In his last season, the team was 0-10.
Given that, why would Ridgewood rehire the coach?
Then again, why the heck would Castelamare even apply?
"I just wanted to coach football," he said recently. "I missed it. I missed it."
Must have. The Ridgewood administration, led by then-principal Wendell Krinn, fired the popular Castelamare in 1996. Krinn said he wanted the program to go in a different direction. It didn't -- under the strict and unbending coach Mike Looney, it went 0-10 again. But there was nearly a player revolt and parents were soon screaming for Looney's head.
When Looney quit after one season, Castelamare was passed over for Wayne Parzik, who proceeded to guide his team to an 0-10 mark, though it was a less-Looney 0-10.
Maybe Krinn was wrong and it wasn't Cas.
Maybe it was the talent.
Today, Castelamare should send a thank you card to Ridgewood. While the Rams have endured as one of the county's losingest programs, Castelamare was hired a year after his Rams rejection at Wesley Chapel. With a feeder program like Weightman Middle School providing a wealth of talent, Castelamare's Wildcats are considered by most coaches to be the team to beat in this 2001 version of Pasco County football.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Castelamare has long been praised as the most giving and generous coach in the county, and he has a legion of players from his past who continue to adore him. He gave integrity to a woeful football program. Just ask his rivals. And parents are perhaps the most loyal of his followers.
He was the definition of "Winning isn't everything ..."
It was, however, the only thing Castelamare couldn't do at Ridgewood. He could probably gloat now, after a 5-5 season in 2000 at Wesley Chapel and the promise of 2001, but he won't.
When asked if this Wildcats team is his most talented, and if it feels good to have something to work with for a change, Castelamare passes on the easy answer.
"The teams I had at Ridgewood always worked hard," Castelamare said. "Sometimes we didn't have the athletes, but we always had hard-working kids. We worked hard every time and I thought we gave everyone a tussle."
When he was on the west side, Castelamare compiled a 42-78 record. Considering it was the west side and all, he deems that "pretty successful," as he often measures such things more by what he did for the kids (scholarships) rather than what the kids did for him.
Wesley Chapel has given Castelamare his second shot and an opportunity to prove himself as a coach who can win on the field instead of just off it.
He was criticized by some, including me, as a nice guy, but a so-so coach. But he can shake that label and show us all that sometimes, it really is just a matter of talent.
If Castelamare is a bad coach, as his record at Ridgewood indicates, we find out this year. His team probably has the best fullback he has had, the best quarterback, and easily the most speed. It knows how to win, as evidenced by last year's record. What's not to like about this team's potential?
If his team goes 4-6, does it make him not so? If he goes 8-2, does it prove the naysayers wrong, all those voices that were surprised a new program that promised to be rapt with talent would hire a coach 36 games under .500?
I'm not sure what it proves. Other than sometimes, good people get good teams, and it's nice to see.