Breaking Tampa Bay, Florida and national news and weather from Tampa Bay Online and The Tampa Tribune |
  • Home

Who Is Robert Weiner, Anyway?

Posted Jan 8, 2013 by Joey Johnston

Updated Jan 8, 2013 at 12:54 PM

It seemed like the perfect fit. Robert Weiner, a local legend with nothing left to accomplish at Plant High School, accepted the receivers coach position on Willie Taggart’s staff at the University of South Florida. It looked to be a great thing for USF recruiting.

Tuesday, Weiner decided to stay at Plant, where he is 102-19 in nine seasons with four state championships.

It has become a lightning-rod issue. Why wasn’t his mind made up before saying yes to USF? Why wouldn’t he be attracted by more money and a higher level of football? And for those who don’t follow much Hillsborough County prep football, there’s this: Who is Robert Weiner, anyway?

Here’s an article I did in 2006 on Weiner, a few days before Plant won its first state football championship. It might not shed any insight on why he walked away from USF, but it could tell you a little bit more about the man, cut from a different cloth than many of his coaching colleagues.

Originally published: Friday, December 8, 2006

By JOEY JOHNSTON, The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - Not long ago, Plant High football coach Robert Weiner and his older brother, Sam, a partner in one of the world’s largest law firms, compared their salaries. Turns out, Sam’s Christmas bonus was five times greater than the coach’s yearly compensation.

Ridiculous, they thought.

Then Sam grew serious.

“If I could do what you do for just one moment, if I could stand in that locker room and lead a team, if I could call just one play, it would be worth a lot of money,” Sam said.

Weiner made him an offer.

“Hey, for like 30 grand, no problem. I’ll let you call a play,” he said. “You know Robert Marve is going to check out of it anyway.”

They laughed for days.

Robert Weiner wouldn’t trade places with his brother. With anybody, really. If the Panthers defeat Ponte Vedra Beach Nease in Saturday’s Class 4A state title game, Weiner can raise a championship trophy. Most coaches dream of that moment, but his career never was defined by that goal. Obviously, it wasn’t about money, either.

If you peel back the layers of Weiner’s life, it always comes back to love.

Loving his job. Loving his players. Loving his students.

And everyone loving right him back.

Poetic Justice

Robert Weiner, 42, never played the game. Not one down of football - ever. Yet he’s one victory away from coaching a state-championship team. It works, with his trademark organizational and motivational skills, with a lifetime of studying X’s and O’s, with a staff that follows his workaholic lead.

“I’ll admit it’s unusual and different,” said Weiner, who was a tennis player and football manager at Jesuit High, where he later returned as an English teacher and football assistant before arriving at Plant in 2004.

Unusual. Different.

How better to describe his coaching career, his life.

He writes poetry.

Thousands of poems, scribbled into journals, written on the margins of dog-eared pages. Moments of inspiration. Quick observations. Some done in perfect meter. Others defying all convention.

“The words of a poem need to have a sound,” Weiner said. “The sound and the intensity almost create the meaning itself. I hardly ever read my stuff. Like Bob Dylan said, once you’re done writing something, it no longer belongs to you. It belongs to them.

“It’s just a form of self-expression, just like putting on pads and hitting someone on a football field can be self-expression. But words, yeah, I like words.”

When Weiner was Jesuit’s student-body president, he began the morning convocation with a quote of the day. For years, his English students received wallet-sized cards with a daily inspiration. Now his football players are welcomed by new sayings in the football field house.

In dreams begin responsibilities - U2.

For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother - William Shakespeare.

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up - Vince Lombardi.

“I read them every day,” Panthers defensive back Chris Kuzdale said. “Most of it, you take to heart.”

Weiner smiled.

“That’s the idea,” he said.

A Man For Others

When Robert Weiner was 10, his mother, Carol, made a prediction.

“He’s going to save the world.”

Even as a kid, even when he had packs of friends - “people have always been attracted to him like a magnet,” Sam said - he was drawn to the lonely child who had no one.

“Robert could be doing anything in this world - doctor, lawyer, you name it,” said Plant co-defensive coordinator John Few, who has known Weiner since their days at Jesuit. “But you’ll never find anyone as genuine in giving themselves to others.”

In college, Weiner received a commendation from then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis after running a fundraising campaign for the homeless. At Jesuit, he commandeered the school’s community-service program. Before long, the entire student body was going deep for the needy. That has continued at Plant.

For 27 years, he has been a counselor at Muscular Dystrophy Association camp. When his players were invited, at first, some seemed uncomfortable. Soon, they were at their best, beaming, knowing they were doing good.

“We complain about running a sprint,” Weiner said. “But what about the people who would die to run a sprint? The people who would die to run through the smoke of that fog machine to a cheering crowd?

“How can we take any moment in life for granted?”

Plant offensive line coach Brian McNulty struggled to get through Jesuit, needing summer-school credits each year. In his frustration, he fought feelings of inferiority.

Then he took Weiner’s American Literature course.

“He made me feel like I was the only one in his class,” McNulty said. “He was so patient with me. He taught me to learn by association. He turned me on to music, then I discovered the books on tape and how I could learn so much better with audio.”

In college, McNulty learned another truth. Someone finally diagnosed his attention-deficit disorder.

“Coach Weiner cared about me, truly cared,” said McNulty, who went on to play football at Michigan State and USF. “He was a huge influence on me. And believe me, I’m not the only one.”

Lyrics Of His Life

Throughout Plant’s season, letters and e-mails have poured in, from around the world. The telephone rings incessantly. Weiner’s former students and players are checking in.

Sometimes, it’s New York Giants kicker Jay Feely. Weiner was Feely’s best man. No shock there. Weiner holds the North American record for being in the most weddings (although never his own, to his mother’s chagrin).

Inevitably, Weiner winds up with the microphone, delivering a speech that has everyone laughing, everyone crying, sometimes at the same moment. Just as inevitably, some distant relative will ask the groom: “Who was that guy?”

Sometimes, it’s the first contact in a decade or so. “Do you even remember me, Mr. Weiner?” they might say. He’ll sigh, then promptly describe their features and tell them where they sat in class.

You’d expect a man with 3,000 CDs and 9,000 songs on his iPod to know lyrics. His Honda Pilot died the other day and he had to borrow the car of a player to get home. Wheels have never really mattered. “As long as there’s a good sound system,” he said.

Mention a movie to Weiner and he’ll start quoting a scene, verbatim. He does a killer Al Pacino. Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men?” Of course.

Maybe it’s because his mother is a senior buyer for Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s because of his devotion to pop culture. But Weiner almost seems to be living out his own screenplay.

It’s somewhere between “Dead Poets Society” and “Coach Carter.” But in the middle, there’s love, like “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

A longtime music teacher, at the end of his career, wonders about his contributions. Then he is greeted by former students, filling an auditorium. The lyrics of his life.

“Just knowing Coach Weiner has made all the difference in my life,” said Marve, the quarterback.

Robert Weiner, potentially a state-championship coach.

Robert Weiner, a very rich man.

Reader Comments

Post a comment


(Requires free registration.)

Auto-login on future visits

Show my name in the online users list

Forgot your password?

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.