Not sure how smart this is for me to try to do this, but after I put together my top 10 football coaches list a few weeks ago, I started thinking of other lists I could do.
For some reason, I have decided to try a top 10 list of coaches in the county across all sports. So I’m trying to compare softball coaches to football coaches, swimming coaches to tennis coaches, etc., to try to find the top 10 high school coaches PERIOD in Polk County.
Needless to say, this wasn’t easy.
But after some thought and some research, here is my top 10 list of (active) head coaches in Polk County.
- 1. Glenn Rutenbar, Bartow softball:Since 1988, Rutenbar has won seven
state titles and led the Yellow Jackets to five runner-up finishes, including this past season. Not only have his teams succeeded at the state level, they have consistently been at the top of the Polk County softball hierarchy. That’s almost as impressive, considering other great programs like Lake Wales, Auburndale, Lake Region, George Jenkins and others are always giving Bartow a run for its money.
- 2. Bill Castle, Lakeland football: It’s incredibly difficult to put the FHSAA’s Coach of the Century at No. 2, and in football he is unmatched. Castle has led the Dreadnaughts to six state titles and one runner-up finish since 1979, and Lakeland has set numerous state records from consecutive regular-season wins (60) to consecutive wins overall (53). He has also sent dozens of players to Division I programs and even to the NFL.
- 3. Mike Musick, Lakeland Christian cross country/track: Won girls track and field titles from 1989-1994; girls cross country state titles from 1983-86 and 1991-92; a boys cross country title in 1990; and a boys track and field title in 1986. That’s 14 team state titles, as well as multiple other individual champions. His only drawback is that the team success hasn’t met his incredible standards in recent seasons.
- 4. Joe Lenard, Jenkins girls soccer: After leading McKeel to the playoffs in 2005 and 2007, Lenard has turned the Jenkins program into one of the best in the country. The Eagles won the state title in 2008 and were runners-up in 2009. Lenard’s squad had a 59-match unbeaten streak during those two seasons, and they’re still primed for a title run next season.
- 5. Nancy Denton, Lake Wales softball: She may only have one state title (2007), but Denton and the Highlanders have made three other trips to the FHSAA Finals. They finished as runners-up on three of those trips.
- 6. Terrence McGriff, Bartow basketball: It took a little time, but McGriff has turned Bartow into one of the top programs in the state since his hiring in 2002. He led the Yellow Jackets to the state championship in 2010 after losing in the state semifinals in 2009. The Jackets reloaded a little this past season, but McGriff has laid the foundation for the program to thrive for many years.
- 7. Danny Walker, Lake Gibson wrestling: Walker and his Braves program have raised the standard of wrestling in Polk County, with five individual state champions since 2005 and top-five team finishes the past three years (Lake Gibson was runner-up this past season).
- 8. Deron Collins, Lakeland basketball: The only other active boys basketball coach in the county with a state title, Collins won the FHSAA Finals in 2002 while at Haines City. He left to lead the Dreadnaughts and has made the playoffs every year but one since 2006, making it to the regional finals in 2009.
- 9. David Saliba, Winter Haven baseball: He hasn’t won a state title, but Saliba has built a powerhouse program since the mid-1990s. The Blue Devils made three straight trips to the FHSAA Finals from 2004-06, finishing second in the state in 2004 and 2005. Saliba also consistently sends players to top college programs or has them drafted by MLB teams.
- 10. Johnnie Lawson, Winter Haven basketball: A longtime assistant for LeDawn Gibson’s Blue Devils dynasty, Lawson took over in 2008-09 after Gibson left for Florida A&M. He has led the team to the FHSAA Finals the past two seasons, losing to Dillard in the championship game this past winter.
- Just missed: Guy Jennings, Auburndale boys soccer; Crystal Ramsey, Lakeland volleyball; Rod Shafer, Lake Wales football; Jemalle Cornelius, Fort Meade football; Harry Wooddell, Winter Haven track/cross country; Keith DeMyer, Lake Gibson football. Also two coaches who just recently stepped down – Jim Cross, Jenkins boys soccer; and John Carpenter, All Saints baseball.
I really tried my best to be as thorough with this as possible, but if I missed someone please let me know. I’d love to hear your feedback on this list. At the very least, it shows we have some incredible coaches in this county.