By Jarrett Guthrie

TAMPA – Longtime Hillsborough High assistant baseball coach Spencer Nunez has been hired as the new head coach at Jefferson. Nunez, a 2010 Hillsborough grad, spent the last nine seasons on the Terriers’ coaching staff serving under former head coach Kenny White and current coach Bryan Burgess.

Nunez said his experiences, first as a player and then a coach at another one of Tampa’s historic programs is what he hopes has prepared him for his first head coaching positional the school, which won the 2018 FHSAA Class 6A state title.

“It is definitely an honor to be a head coach in Hillsborough County,” he said. “I started thinking about moving into one of these positions a year or so ago, feeling that under Coach White and Coach Burgess I’ve had enough guidance and gained some really good knowledge, under two really good coaches, and that it was time for me to go after one of those jobs.”

“Truly the Jefferson job really stood out to me last year, and stood out to me even more this year, like Hillsborough, Jefferson is so rich with tradition.”

Jefferson was in search of a new head coach for a month since former coach Daniel Gonzalez was terminated from the school after being arrested and admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a female student. Gonzalez replaced Juan Fontela, who led the Dragons to the 2018 state crown, before stepping down mid-season in 2019.

Nunez declined going into his thoughts on the previous two coaching tenures the program has had, instead focusing on what’s ahead.

“I think there are challenges whenever you take on any job and you have to look forward to facing those challenges,” Nunez said. “I think at a school like Jefferson, we can really move forward and I feel like a fresh start will be good for Jefferson.

“The first thing I want to do is get the parents on board, the players on board, and when those things happen, we will quickly start moving in the right direction.”

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Looking at Jefferson as a whole, he said he is confident that the program will quickly move forward after a few recent seasons of unsteadiness.

“I think I can add a few things, most importantly, I think I can return some of the discipline that was there while Coach (Pop) Cuesta was the head coach,” he said. “When Coach Cuesta was there, there was never a question when Jefferson stepped on the field that they were completely prepared to play a ball game. I think restoring that mindset is going to be our focus – tradition, preparation, and playing up to that Jefferson standard.”

His 2020 head coach Bryan Burgess said it is going to be tough to lose Nunez on his staff as he’s seen how steadily he’s grown in his development as a coach.

“He’s been a sponge, willing to do anything,” Burgess said. “Early on he took a bit of a back seat, really focusing on working with the players and he had a natural connection to them because he’s young, while having a great head for baseball. He’s been calling every pitch for us for a number of years, he’s taken our pitching staff over and even started working with our infielders. I think the kids are going to buy in with what he does really quickly.”

The Dragons new coach said he would miss his players and fellow coaches at HHS, saying that his deep ties to the Terriers program will always be there.

“I have a piece of paper that says I’ll always be a Terrier, that is something that means a lot to me, that I take a lot of pride in,” Nunez said. “I was a player there and I coached there. I coached with Bryan Burgess for nine years, and played for him for four more, with the (current) players I’ve definitely developed some great relationships and worked hard the past two years so (this group) would be ready for their junior and senior season. I know they will continue to do great things over there, and I want that success for them.”

Burgess was quick to send off his former player and colleague in competitive fashion, saying with a big laugh: “I wish him well. Other than losing two games a year to us, I hope he does well over there.”

Nunez, who works in health information management for Shriners Hospital, will not hold a teaching position at the school.