Land O' Lakes' Benedetto Out As Football Coach
The sense of shock remained in John Benedetto's voice Tuesday afternoon. A little more than four hours earlier, Benedetto, the Land O' Lakes High football coach for 32 seasons, opened a single-page letter with a lone paragraph. "This memorandum will serve to notify you that your request to extend your DROP Deferred Retirement Option Program participation into the 2009-2010 school year has not been authorized by the superintendent. Your current DROP extension period is authorized through the 2008-2009 school year only and your employment with the District School Board of Pasco County will end on June 5, 2009." "Here's the good part," said Benedetto, 61. "The last sentence."The final sentence read: "Thank you for the many years of service you have provided to the students and families of Pasco County." After 38 years as a teacher in Pasco County and 32 as Land O' Lakes' football coach, Benedetto's denied extension in the DROP likely signifies the end of his tenure as coach. When asked if he would remain as the football coach, though not teaching at the school, he wasn't sure that situation would be best. "I just don't see how that's going to be possible," Benedetto said. "It'd be awfully hard for me not being there as the head football coach and then only showing up just for practice. I just don't see how that's going to be possible. There's no way I can do it. I love my job. I'm really mad right now." At the beginning of February, Land O' Lakes principal Monica Ilse, who will take over the new Anclote High next week, approved the DROP extensions of John and his wife, Vanie, as well as Al Claggett, an English teacher and the football team's defensive coordinator. The trio sent the paperwork to the school district by mid-February, ahead of the March 1 deadline. All three received denial letters Tuesday. Although unsure of what may come of this situation, Land O' Lakes athletic director Chuck Moehle said: "Anybody that went to a varsity football banquet, you really understand those kids are his family. ... He just goes about things the right way. I think he's a person with a lot of class. He treated opponents and others with a lot of respect. Always. It's going to be very different no matter what direction we head in." During Benedetto's tenure, he had a 199-149 record, led the program to 13 district titles, including the past three seasons; 17 playoff appearances, including the past 12 seasons; six Sunshine Athletic Conference titles and two appearances in the regional finals. "I really thought after 38 years of being in the Land O' Lakes community," Benedetto said, "... I would be able to go out on my own terms."