TAMPA — At 1 p.m Monday, Earl Garcia will step onto his practice field at Hillsborough High to officially begin his 29th season as a head football coach and his 22nd at the helm at Hillsborough.
With a coaching career that exceeds four decades, Garcia has the longest active coaching career — of any coach — in Hillsborough County.
And after nearly half a century of coaching football, Garcia’s passion is as strong as it was 40 years ago.
Monday marks the first day fall sports around the state can practice. For football, players must adhere to a non-contact rule until Saturday, when they are allowed to go full contact in helmets and pads.
“I’m more excited than ever before,” Garcia said. “If I’m not excited, I’d resign immediately.”
In 29 years, Garcia has accumulated 224 wins and 87 losses as a head coach. He’s 190-50 overall at Hillsborough and could surpass 200 wins this season.
On the first day of practice each year, Garcia instructs his players of the following: Report on time, have your paperwork complete, be in shape, come with an open mind and “have a thick skin, because we’re going to coach you hard.”
“It’s a tough man’s game,” he said. “Tough guys win in this game. You have to be tough mentally and physically, but much more mentally.”
To Garcia, coaching football is a blessing. It’s also a responsibility he fills obligated to perform, despite the long hours.
“It’s not about a record, it’s about making a lasting impression on kids,” he said.
During his coaching career, Garcia has helped dozens of students earn athletic scholarships.
“The constant in coaching is they still look at adults or teachers for guidance,” he said. “They did a survey of inner-city kids in Boston and 87 percent said their coaches were the male influences in their life.”
At the 25th annual Hillsborough County Coach Foundation Dinner and Dance sponsored by the George M. Steinbrenner Family in May, Garcia expressed his concern with the amount of turnover of head coaches in the school district. Longevity and a commitment to athletic programs, he said, is disappearing.
“The turnaround is frightening,” he said. “We have to find a way to keep and attract young coaches in Hillsborough County.”
The Terriers went 7-3 last season in the most competitive district in the county and return Dwayne Lawson, a 6-foot-5 quarterback who has verbally committed to Miami.
During his tenure at Hillsborough, Garcia has made 18 playoff appearances and is 16-18 all-time in the postseason. In 1996, he guided Hillsborough to the Class 6A state title game, the first Florida High School Athletic Association championship appearance in program history. The thought of winning his — and the school’s — first football title is a driving force.
“Absolutely,” Garcia said. “I think about that ’96 season every day.”
And he shows no sign of slowing down.
“I’m still very, very competitive,” Garcia said. “I still got testosterone left.”