Wharton High's Richard Wood (left) and Jefferson High's Mike Simmonds (right) accepted Coach of the Year plaques from the Bucs' Jon Gruden on Wednesday
For Coach Mike Simmonds of Jefferson High School and Coach Richard Wood of Wharton High School, the 2002 season was bittersweet, emphasis on the sweet.
Each coach saw his team storm through the regular season, post a 9-1 record and follow with a thrilling run to the state title game.
"What a ride," said Wood of Wharton's march to the state championship game in Tallahassee last Friday. "The positive attitude was just overwhelming on the football team. They did everything we asked them to do."
Jefferson faced Palm Bay in the Class 4A title game and Wharton took on Ely for the Class 5A championship, but that's where the wonderful ride came to an end for both teams. Though both teams fought hard, Wharton fell to Ely, 22-10 and Jefferson lost to Palm Bay, 19-10.
"We're real proud of what our kids did," said Simmonds about his Dragons. "Our kids played courageously and they played with a lot of heart."
On Wednesday, the two coaches, both of whom are former Buccaneers players, met on the practice field at One Buccaneer Place for a more upbeat end to the season. Together, they were honored as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2002 High School Coaches of the Year.
At the ceremony, Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden congratulated the coaches on their fine seasons and presented each with a framed "Coach of the Year" certificate, signed by Gruden, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay.
Both Coach Simmonds and Coach Wood we're pleased to be back on their old NFL stomping grounds.
"To meet Coach Gruden and to be over here at One Buc Place again is a tremendous honor," said Simmonds. "There are a lot of Coach of the Year awards and if there was one honor that I would like to receive, it's this one, from the Buccaneers."
Coach Wood agreed with his coaching counterpart and attributed his success at Wharton to the wisdom passed down to him over the years during both his playing days and his early days as a coach.
"I attribute this to the coaches that I've had in the past," said Wood. "I've learned from them and tried to impart some of the things they've taught me onto the kids. I'm just honored."
In addition to the certificates, Coach Simmonds and Coach Wood will each receive a $1,000 donation to their school's football program and be guests of the Buccaneers at their Monday Night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Several factors were taken into account during the selection of the Buccaneers Coach of the Year winners, including the coach's impact on his team, school and community. The program is designed to recognize high school coaches who transform, through hard work and dedication to young people, the best available athletes into high-potential football players.
All schools in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota were eligible for the award regardless of size, league or division.