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Thursday, Nov 23, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: For Plant's Robert Weiner, some things beyond price

TAMPA - His seat in the coaches' office in the field house was still warm. It's never too early to be the Comeback Kid. Robert Weiner might have taken the prize Tuesday morning. Less than 48 hours after leaving the four-time state champion and juggernaut he built as head football coach at Plant High School, amid tears and hugs and tears and a news conference, off for bigger, greener pastures as receivers coach at South Florida, Weiner ran an amazing circle route: He followed his heart right back to where he thinks he belongs. "These are my kids," he said. And, no, he didn't stop to eat at Waffle House.
There will be jokes. This morning, there are people who think Weiner must be daffy. To take a job, for a lot more money, with more chances for advancement, it seemed a no-brainer. And then to hand it all back in … to go back to high school, for that runt coaching stipend, to go back to teaching English, freshman honors reading, third, fourth, fifth and sixth periods … guy has to be nuts, right? Tuesday, at another news conference, Weiner quoted a line from Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides . "I am a teacher, a coach and a well-loved man, and that's more than enough for me." This morning, there are probably angry at USF, the leader in the clubhouse being new head coach Willie Taggart, who at his first news conference pledged to fight Florida, Florida State and Miami for recruits_ and here he can't keep a high school coach on his staff for two sunrises. If there's egg on Taggart's face, he's not the one who put it there. "My one regret is I put Willie in a position to look bad when it had nothing to do with him," Weiner said. "All he was doing was taking a leap of faith on a guy like me, and he got repaid by being put in this position and he didn't deserve it." He regrets not being able to figure it out until after he took the USF job, but … "Sometimes you have to empty you heart to find what's inside it." What a nutty two days. Weiner's job at Plant had already been posted on the Hillsborough County School District Web site by Plant principal Robert Nelson. But word spread quickly early Tuesday morning, up and down the halls at school. Coach was back. Where there were tears, now there were cheers. Before changing his mind, Weiner had been on the job . He accepted Taggart's offer Sunday morning, then flew home from a coaching convention in Nashville, then cried his farewells at Plant, then reported to USF on Sunday night. He was back at it Monday, meeting with coaches, players, learning the offense. But as Monday went on … "I had images going all through my mind," Weiner said. "Images of games, images of my kids, images of celebration, images of losses, all of us crying after wins, crying after losses, images of difficult moments, and I realized this is where I belong." Weiner doesn't have a wife or children, so he said that made it easier, but not by much. He phoned his parents and his brother. "Am I going to look like an idiot?" he asked his mom. "Who cares?" she said. You follow your heart Then (gulp) you go tell the man who just hired you. Monday morning, Weiner got to Taggart's office before Taggart, by a lot. "The conversation with Coach Taggart was difficult," Weiner said. His heart had simply affirmed what he always told his players, that it's about more than winning or even state titles. It's about relationships. It's about reaching kids you didn't think you could reach. It's about memories. Weiner walked the walk _ all the way back to Plant. He's nuts. That's what some are thinking. But they didn't talk to Plant quarterback Colby Brown. Sunday, when Weiner said his goodbyes, Brown might have been crying hardest. Now it was Tuesday. Colby Brown smiled and said, "I know Christmas just passed, but this feels like it ..." Go talk to Deborah McFadden, whose son, Luke, is a sophomore receiver for Plant. Last summer, Luke broke his shoulder in practice before getting a chance to play for the varsity. Weiner was at the emergency room, and after the surgery, and then at the McFadden home. "It meant everything to us," Deborah said. "My son hadn't played one game for Coach Weiner. He wasn't s star receiver. Coach cares for everyone." Try and put a price on that. Robert Weiner, 48, began his second stint as Plant head football coach on Tuesday. After what just went down, he can say goodbye to coaching college ball for a while. "Oh, probably forever," Weiner said. "And I'm one hundred percent OK with that." Today, he'll be back teaching English, third, fourth, fifth and sixth periods. Tuesday, after the TV cameras left, he walked to the football field, where Plant quarterbacks and receivers were working. Colby Brown threw a long spiral. "Keep your weight back," Weiner told him. "Right, Coach," Brown said. These are his kids.
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