By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Bill Specht isn’t calling it “retirement.”
It’s more of a hiatus.
But no matter how you classify it, Specht won’t be coaching Port Charlotte High School’s basketball team next season, he confirmed to The Sun Friday morning.
“I want to look at different things to do in life,” Specht said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back to do that. If I can’t put 100 percent into it, it’s not fair to the kids. … I’m taking a break right now to explore different avenues.”
According to Specht, he’s not sure just yet what those different avenues may be, but he’ll be enjoying some time off this summer. He also says he could find his way back into coaching in a year or two.
After 22 seasons leading the Pirates, Specht says he made his decision shortly after the end of this last season, ending his reign as the area’s most tenured coach. The decision came as a surprise to most, including athletic director Bob Bruglio.
“It’s something he talked about, but I didn’t actually think he would go through with it,” Bruglio said. “I think at the season, every coach is like, ‘Oh, God. I’m done.’ ”
Specht redefined the Port Charlotte basketball program.
He amassed 418 career victories. More importantly, the Pirates made 15 playoff appearances under Specht, totaling eight district championships, including each of the last four seasons.
“He is Port Charlotte High School,” Bruglio said. “He brought basketball and athletics to Port Charlotte. All those years we struggled in athletics, Bill was always there as Mr. Consistency. His teams were always competitive.”
As Specht continued to build a strong program at Port Charlotte, whether he realized it or not, he was also making rival Charlotte a better team.
“Bill Specht made me a better coach because of the way I had to prepare to play against his team each and everyday,” said Charlotte’s Tom Massolio, whose 20 years as head coach is now tops in the area. “I’m not talking about when we went up against them that day or that next couple days. I’m talking about for a full season. You knew they’d always be there at the end, so you needed to prepare each and every day to prepare for his teams.”
Beyond on-the-court experiences, the highlight for Specht in his career was the six years he spent coaching his sons Tyler and Zac.
“That’s something you could never trade for anything,” Specht told The Sun following his 400th win in December. “I wasn’t sure how it would go when it started. My oldest son had to take the brunt of it because I wasn’t good at it back then, but then I learned a little bit more how to deal with the ride home.
“For them to be part of the history and the success of this program means a lot to me because they grew up in the gym.”
Right by his side for most of those 22 seasons was assistant coach Kip Rhoten, whom Bruglio confirmed will be Specht’s successor, and take over as head coach next season.
“I’m going to miss Bill,” Rhoten said. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions. I don’t really have the words for it. … As I’ve told some of the kids, nothing changes. The locker room stays the same. Everything stays the same. We just keep rolling.”
Rhoten was with Specht for 18 years in total, with a four-year break in the middle when he went to lead the program at DeSoto County.
Specht and Rhoten have seen some great players come through Port Charlotte over the years, and while they’d never want to make a top-five list, names like Leighton Bowie, Sean Price – both senior and junior – and Yabney Neptune come to mind first when thinking of the all-time greats.
Rhoten is taking over a young program, where other than Sean Price Jr., a good amount of contribution came from underclassmen. That’ll include Shemar Fleurissant, who will now be heavily relied upon following a sensational sophomore season where he was fifth in the area in scoring with 12.4 points per game while also averaging 4.5 boards a night.