Harper

Lecanto head football coach Greg Harper stands next to quarterback Travis McGee during a game in the 2015 season. Harper led the Panthers to their second-ever playoff appearance that season. He resigned Friday after six years as head coach at Lecanto.

After six seasons at the helm, Lecanto head football coach Greg Harper stepped down on Friday.

The school announced in a press release that Harper had resigned due to personal reason, and that he remains employed both as a physical education teacher and head boys weightlifting coach.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a little bit. I decided now was the time,” Harper said. “It’s never a good time when you’ve been at a place for six years. I’ve built a lot of relationships. I enjoy living here.

“It’s not a fun decision letting everyone know. I feel like this is the time for me to move on. It’s the best thing for me and inevitably the best thing for the program.”

When Harper came aboard in 2014, the long-suffering Panthers experienced the best two-year run in school history. Going 5-5 that first year broke a string of 12 straight losing seasons, and represented just the third time the team ever finished .500 or better.

Lecanto followed that up with 7-4 campaign in 2015, capturing its first county championship and advancing to the state playoffs for only the second time after placing second in District 5A-7.

The Panthers lost 24-6 at River Ridge in the regional quarterfinals, but they had already set a school record for wins. That surpassed their only other winning season, 6-4 in 2001.

Then graduations took their toll and the program has yet to fully recover, going 7-32 over the past four years. Lecanto ended up 2-8 this season.

“A lot of kids we had (the first two seasons) were excited for the opportunity to play for me,” Harper said. “I’m hoping the kids we have now feel the same for the next guy coming in. I think this group can win a lot of games. I hope the next guy can have some success and turn this thing around.”

At 19-41 overall, Harper is both the second-longest tenured and second-winningest coach in school history, behind Dick Slack (24-67 in nine seasons from 1995-2003).

“We got some things accomplished,” Harper said. “I came here to build a consistent winner and I failed in that. I wish I’d have done better for the kids that played for me and the administration and staff at our school.

“I think we did right by the kids. We sent a lot of kids to college and made a difference hopefully in a lot of kids’ lives.”

Though Harper lamented being unable produce more victories during his run, he did take pride in the belief that the Panthers are on more solid footing than when he arrived.

“I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job running the program the way it’s supposed to be run and keeping up with things,” Harper said. “The kids are used to working hard. They understand it’s something they need to do to be successful. None of that was in place before and it’s hard to build. I think the kids understand it now.

“There’s definitely things we did here I’m very proud of. Many years from now I’ll look back very fondly. A lot of it is the kids in our program having success.”

Harper also spoke highly of an administration he said wanted him to stay. This decision, he stressed, was completely his own.

This is not, however, the end of his coaching career. He remains at Lecanto for now, but he does plan to pursue other opportunities.

“I’m a football coach,” Harper said. “It’s what I do.”

Lecanto is the second county school with an opening for a head football coach, joining Citrus. Crystal River’s Cliff Lohrey and Monty Vann at Seven Rivers Christian are now the longest-tenured coaches in the county at just two years with their respective teams.

“Lecanto High School will now begin the process of filling the head coaching position,” Lecanto athletic director Ron Allan said in the school’s press release. “Candidate names will be compiled and interviewed over the coming weeks with the intent to fill the position in the timeliest manner possible.

“On behalf of the students, faculty and staff of Lecanto High School, we want to thank Coach Harper for his dedication to our school and community. We feel he has left our program in a better situation. We wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

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Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, chris.bernhardt@chronicleonline.com or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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