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New coach is going about his business

Recruiting coordinator, 28 years old and on the job six months, will fill in for suspended Winters.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000


TAMPA -- Six months ago, Jose Fernandez was completing his second stint as an assistant basketball coach at Barry University.

Today, he is the acting women's basketball coach at the University of South Florida.

Fernandez takes over for Jerry Ann Winters, who has been suspended with pay after the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs office found that Winters dismissed former guard Dione Smith from the team in retaliation for Smith's participation in an internal investigation into allegations of racism against Winters.

While Winters is out, the team will be run by Fernandez and assistants Harry Elifson and Sadiaa Jones -- none of whom has coaching experience on the Division I level. Fernandez has been an assistant for the men's and women's teams at Division II Barry, and is a former high school coach. Elifson, who coached girls basketball for 11 years at Boca Ciega High, has no college coaching experience.

Fernandez, 28, joined USF's coaching staff in April. Elifson, 38, was hired in May. Jones, 24, was hired in July.

"It was a great opportunity for me to come to South Florida and take on a position in Conference USA as a recruiting coordinator, and a big challenge," Fernandez said Wednesday afternoon. "Right now, this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.

"This wasn't the way that I would have liked to have gotten to take over a program. But, like I said, until further notice, this is coach Winters' team and I'm going to run it like so. When I said goodbye to her (Wednesday morning), I told her "Coach, I'll keep the office warm for you and we're leaving it just like you left it today.' "

Fernandez said he spoke with Winters on Wednesday morning and she understandably was upset.

"Just my impression from when she came in today and she heard the news: When you've been doing something for so long it's such a big part of your life," Fernandez said. "She cares about these kids like her own. When you hear that news that this might be the last day you're going to see your team and you're ever going to coach again, I don't remember ever feeling as bad as I've felt for somebody else as I felt today."

Fernandez said practice went well, "especially with everything that went on today."

He said being thrust into the job in this manner has been tough on him and the staff, but he plans to make the best of it.

"I spoke to the girls and we're just going about our business," Fernandez said. "Coach Winters is not there, but she's in our practice in spirit. ... We're just moving on. We've got an (exhibition) on Nov. 1 and another on the 11th, and then we're going on the road to play one of the best teams in the country -- Arizona State (Nov. 19). The staff knows that with one coach short, everybody has to step it up and so do the players. And that's how I think Coach Winters would want it."

Jose Fernandez

HOMETOWN: Miami.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in physical education from Florida Atlantic University in 1994.

COACHING EXPERIENCE: Assistant at Miami Dade Community College (Kendall) in 1991-92; assistant boys basketball coach at Miami Sunset High from 1992-94; assistant men's coach at Barry University from 1994-96; girls coach at Miami Lourdes Academy from 1996-99 (the team was 83-16 in three seasons and was Class 5A state runner-up in 1997-98); assistant women's basketball coach at Barry last season.

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