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Crusaders' silence only fuels speculation

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


This is a portrait of Tampa Catholic football prior to August 1999: A well-mannered, sportsmanlike program with six consecutive playoff berths, a Sports Illustrated feature on quarterback Kenny Kelly, former players scattered throughout major colleges and a new stadium on the drawing board.

Head coach Bob Henriquez was entering his ninth season, and assistant coach David Lewis had served as head coach for the six years previous to Henriquez's hiring. That's 15 years without losing a coach and seven years in which the Crusaders lost 29 games total.

This is the TC program since: One season-opening scandal involving two starters, one alcoholic beverage, lawyers, suspensions, appeals and transfers. That was followed by the resignation of Henriquez and five of his assistants, including Lewis, after a 6-5 season ended with a 44-7 loss to Frostproof in the first round of the playoffs.

Those coaches, and several key players, resurfaced at Jefferson after principal Brother David McMahon replaced Henriquez with John Diehl and his 21 years of head coaching experience in March.

On Wednesday, Diehl -- less than seven months after he took the job and uprooted his family from New York -- resigned as coach and Social Studies teacher.

So what in the world has gone wrong at Tampa Catholic?

Unfortunately, as has been the case for much of the year, that remains a bit of a mystery because no one at TC is saying anything.

While rumors of cover-ups, face-to-face confrontations with players and ultimatums to coaches and students abound, all any TC officials will say is, "No comment."

That includes Greg Hoffman, the public relations consultant hired by McMahon to serve as the Crusaders' spokesperson. Hoffman's response to the most recent coaching departure was exactly what we've been hearing for more than a year now, only in more flowery language.

"All we're going to say is that John Diehl resigned as head football coach for personal reasons and he also resigned his teaching position," Hoffman said. "There's no cloak of secrecy here. It's just not that big of a deal. Everything else that has happened here happened in the past. Our coach resigning is happening now. It has nothing to do with anything else that has happened."

Added Henriquez: "What they've done is go into a bunker mentality, which is the Diocesan way I suppose, but that's the worst thing you can do. All it does is raise questions."

Questions from parents, students, prospective families looking to enter Tampa Catholic, competing schools and on and on.

Are school officials trying to hide something? What is it that they don't want to tell the Tampa Catholic community?

Like Tampa Catholic, Berkeley is a private school, highly recognized for both sports and education. Also similar to TC, Berkeley employs a public relations person to handle school responses.

Earlier this week when the Buccaneers were forced to forfeit all of their volleyball team's wins for using an ineligible player, the school issued a news release and made the athletic director and volleyball coach available for any and all questions. It gave them a chance to tell their side of the story and gave the public a chance to hear it.

This does not mean that Hoffman wasn't doing his job. On the contrary, he was no doubt doing exactly what he was told, an order that probably came directly from McMahon, the man steering Tampa Catholic's ship.

So what is McMahon thinking?

What did he think of Tampa Catholic's athletic program's image before he arrived?

All those playoff berths, the Sports Illustrated feature on Kelly (how much would equal advertising cost?), former players scattered throughout major colleges, a school on the verge of getting a football stadium, a private school respected for its diversity. A head coach, Henriquez, who almost everyone seemed to like, entering his ninth season.

What do Tampa Catholic officials think about the way that image has changed? And most important, what do they plan to do about it?

There are plenty of people out there who care very much and simply want to know the whole story.

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