Each year during the high school football season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers honor outstanding local coaches through the Coach of the Week program. Coaches are selected over a period of 10 weeks based on their impact on their players and their teams' achievements on the field, and from those 10 honorees one is chosen at the end of the season as the Coach of the Year.
The 2009 Coach of the Year is Pat O'Brien, the head coach at Sickles High School.
When Sickles opened in 1997, the fledgling football program initially struggled to find success on the field. Facing a litany of tough opponents in the highly competitive Hillsborough County ranks, Sickles did not record a single winning record during the school's first 10 seasons and captured just two victories each in 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, the Gryphons finally turned things around under O'Brien, who made it his mission to rebuild the program as a winner. O'Brien transformed the attitude of the team and the school community, leading the 2007 Gryphons to the school's first playoff appearance.
In his twenty-third year as a coach, O'Brien was committed to building strong relationships with players and their parents. He encouraged his student-athletes to participate in other sports during the winter and spring seasons while also implementing an offseason training program. The Gryphons won only three games in 2008 but rebounded with an outstanding campaign this past fall. Sickles went 8-2 in the regular season and earned its second playoff berth in three years. Despite falling to powerhouse Armwood in the playoffs, O'Brien is encouraged by the team's success and is already preparing for next year.
"We graduated about 18 seniors," said O'Brien. "They are a big part of the program, but we have some young kids that are developing. We lost about 50% of our starters, but we have a good base to come back and build on. Our entire offensive backfield is coming back so we're excited about that."
O'Brien, who was selected as the Buccaneers Coach of the Week in Week Six this fall, was honored again on Sunday during Tampa Bay's season finale. O'Brien attended the game along with his wife, Carla, and their daughter, Cassidy, and was greeted by General Manager Mark Dominik prior to kickoff. Dominik presented the award winner with a commemorative certificate, a football and a hat honoring O'Brien as the Buccaneers Coach of the Year.
"I think it's a great honor for our players and my coaching staff to be recognized like this," said O'Brien. "It is just such an honor for [the Buccaneers] to take time to recognize us down here at our level. It really puts an exclamation mark down on our program and what we did this year. Hopefully, [this is] something our returning players are going to work for in the offseason to get ready for next year."
As the 2009 Coach of the Year, O'Brien received a total of $2,000 from the NFL to assist the Sickles High School football program.
"It's money well-spent," said O'Brien. "We're looking to try something special for this year's team, and have a nice banquet. We've got it already set, what we're going to be using it for, and it's going to come in handy to do something nice for the team as a sendoff to seniors as well."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are proud to support all local high school football programs that have a positive influence on young athletes and the communities in which they live.