H.B. Plant High School almost lost its prized head coach when Robert Weiner nearly left the program for the University of South Florida. But Coach Weiner came back for 2013 to lead the Panthers on another title run. Plant clinched Class 8A-District 6 title this past weekend (November 2, 2013), and it got us thinking about when we sat down with coach back in 2009. Check out this Feature Flashback with our cover story on Coach Weiner:
In Three Years, Coach Robert Weiner Has Brought Plant’s Football Team To The Promise Land, Twice
His five years as head football coach at H.B. Plant High School have been incredible, but Robert Weiner’s two state championships in the past three years may be the beginning of something bigger. One of Tampa’s oldest football teams, Plant was a miserable 1-7 when he took over in 2004. Today, he’s got more than 200 kids trying out and several dozen graduates playing in Division I and II programs, something Plant has never seen. Coach Weiner took some time before two-a-days to sit down and talk about success, his new quarterback and what’s in store for 2009.
When did you start coaching?
I graduated from Boston College in 1987 and then I lived in L.A. in ’88. So my first year was ‘88-89 at Jesuit, which is where I went to high school.
What was your driving factor?
It was just pretty much expected of me. My coaches in high school were my mentors. I was pretty much involved in one way or another in every sport, so when I got to Jesuit, it was assumed I would coach something. Football was always something I wanted to do. It’s just in my blood.
When did you start at Plant High School?
I left Jesuit in 2003 and went to Crystal River to coach baseball. I was the head coach there for a year, and the Plant job became open. Prior to leaving Jesuit and going to Crystal River there were probably five or six head coaching jobs available in other places but I really wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on those things. I had more to do at Jesuit. That was my home and where I grew up, where any part of my personality and character was forged. I wouldn’t have left for any other school but Plant. I grew up three blocks from here even though I ended up going to Jesuit for high school. I’ve been a South Tampa guy my whole life. I thought this job had the potential to be the best in the state.
How was the program when you came here?
Plant had some lean years before we got here. The year before they were 1-9, and I think it only had one playoff appearance in almost 20 years, and it never had a state championship. No team in the city of Tampa had a state championship since 1968 [Blake] until we won it 2006.
How did your first year go?
We had a brutal schedule that was probably as tough as the one we’ll face this year, so we finished 3-7. We played a lot of guys both ways. Six of those seven losses, we were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. We had some good kids on the team; it just took us a while to get it together. When we got here, there were 21 guys on our varsity and 32 guys on J.V. total. Right now, for our summer workout, we have over 200 kids working out for us. That first year, those kids, even though we went 3-7, they bought in to the philosophy of what we were all about. It was more important what we did off the field. That year, we had kids who bought into the other things that we knew were important, and we felt like football would take care of itself. It was a matter of getting those other structural things in place first. That’s why I tell kids, “You may not know this, but those other guys may not be household names like some of our guys now are, but those are the kids we’re standing on the shoulders of.” If they didn’t buy into it that first year, when there was no reason to believe, then this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.
You’ve graduated some of the most sought-after quarterbacks the past few years with Robert Marve and Aaron Murray. How does junior starter Philip Ely matchup to them?
I’ve been blessed with some pretty good guys. They’re all different, and they all have their own ways of getting the team to be successful. What’s similar about all three of them is they realize it’s about us, not them. At Plant High School, if you want to play the position of quarterback, there’s a lot of acclaim that comes with it, but there’s a tremendous amount of work that comes with it. There’s probably nobody in South Tampa who works as hard as Phil Ely right now. And Philip is going to do great. He’s a whole different guy. There are not too many guys who just come from a sheer kid-like enthusiasm play the game. No matter how old or how mature he gets, it’s about his personality. People just like him. They want to do things with him and for him. My favorite word in the English language is sophomore, so we’re really excited that we’ve got two more years of him. Philip is already being recruited. Number-wise, he could have better numbers than either of those two.
You mentioned the schedule, do you think that will be your biggest challenge this year?
The schedule is going to be tough. I think always the challenge is: Can you take a group of 70 to 80 guys who have different goals and backgrounds and bring them together and help them all learn how to move collectively? That alone is why we’ve won two state championships in 2006 and 2008. Those kids learned how to have each other’s backs.
Who’s the coach you most admire?
I’d move out of the realm of football and go to basketball and say [Duke’s] Mike Krzyzewski. He’s a guy who has the most important thing in coaching which is gravitas. He’s got a presence that immediately commands respect from his players and other people. Not because he’s a screamer, but because he’s a guy who’s extremely competent at what he does. You can tell that the connection he has with his players is real and it goes beyond basketball. He really cares for his players both on an off the court, now and forever. That’s what I’d like to do with my players.
Any favorite NFL team?
Being in the area, I’d have to say I’m a Bucs fan. But for some reason, my family has always been Cardinals fans. We’ve been fans for 20 years or so.
Favorite place to tailgate?
Right outside [Raymond James Stadium] on Himes, one of our players, Austin Clark, his family sets up a camper and an entire spread with all this unbelievable food.
I’m throwing a tailgate, what are you bringing?
I’ve gotta be bringing the wieners, right? [laughs] Gotta keep it in the family.
What’s the best thing you can grill?
Probably some good solid steaks. I’ve got a little bit of different seasonings we put together for that.
Favorite outdoor spot in Tampa?
Of course I’ve gotta say [Plant’s] Dad’s Stadium. But I’ve always liked Al Lopez Park. Back in the day, my friend and I from Jesuit ran four marathons and trained over there.
What’s your pre-game ritual?
I’ve got a back room here that I go to for a little bit to collect my thoughts. As I walk out, there are some little things that might not mean anything to anyone else, just things that kids have given me throughout the years. So I’ll usually take a look at those and head out.
What’s on your iPod?
Philip and I made a workout mix that I’ve got on there. It’s got some Lil’ Wayne, Ludacris, Jay-Z, John Legend, a gospel song, some rock. It’s got some good stuff.
So you’ve got two state championships now. What’s next?
I never look at in terms of what’s next for me. I’m always looking for our team to be better. I look at 2006 and 2008 and those were two great teams, but we want to be better today than we were yesterday. We could win 10 state championships and that principle wouldn’t change. You only get one time through this life and we don’t want to waste it on just being great. We want to be something extraordinary. A phrase we use all the time is, “Know your limitations. Now go exceed them.”
So is there another level for you?
When your program has been as successful as ours, a lot of the success is laid at the foot of one person and obviously that success happens to go to me as the head coach. The truth is, we’ve had a lot of great players who have made it so successful, and I’ve had tremendous assistant coaches who carry the ball through all of that. Because of my success, have I been afforded some opportunities? Yes. I’ve had some offers and opportunities since 2006. There would have to be something that would be really enticing, and I’m not talking about financially because I’m not driven that way. You can’t beat it if you’re a guy who wakes up to go to work everyday and you’re thrilled. I’m 44 years old and whether or not you’ve got the energy, you muster something up because people are counting on you and you love doing it. You can’t ask for much more than that. Opportunities might come and might go, but I could live out the rest of my life doing this and be pretty darn happy.