Christ Vagotis, a legendary football coach at Miami Killian High, the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University, was killed in car accident on May 7 near his home in Reidsville, North Carolina, He was 75.
Vagotis, who played lineman under Bear Bryant and Howard Schnellenberger at the University of Alabama in the mid-1960s, was one of Schnellenberger’s first hires when he took over the UM job in 1979. At the time, Vagotis was a successful head coach at Killian, known for his intensity and sense of humor.
After beating the rival Palmetto Panthers, nicknamed the “Palmetto bugs” by Killian players and fans, Vagotis gathered his players into a circle at the center of the field, flopped onto his back and flailed like a dying cockroach.
Another time, on the way to a road game against the Lakeland Kathleen Red Devils, Vagotis had the bus stop at a hardware store in Bartow and he bought a red pitchfork. When they got to the field, he threw it at the 50-yard-line, recalled Don Soldinger, who coached with Vagotis and Killian and UM.
“He was super intense about everything he did,” Soldinger said. “He was unconventional, and would do all kinds of things to get the kids jacked up. He was also a great recruiter. He is a big reason Bernie Kosar ended up at UM.”
Schnellenberger was shocked to hear the news of Vagotis’ death. “Christ was a good upstanding man who loved his players and pushed them hard,” Schnellenberger said. “Everywhere I went, he went. He was a great coach and we won a lot of games together.”
Vagotis coached with Schnellenberger at UM, Louisville, Oklahoma and FAU, where he worked from 1999-2005.
“Coach Vagotis was a character,” said Herb Koross, who coached with him at Killian. “He was passionate and demanded a lot of his coaches and players. His intensity and sense of humor definitely irritated his opponents, but for us it was hysterical. He was his own person, an independent thinker, and did things his way. I was devastated when I heard the news.”
Fred Burnside, who coached baseball and football in Miami-Dade for 47 years, said losing him was “a real jolt.” They worked together at Killian. Burnside remembers pep rallies and back-to-school nights in which Vagotis’ coaching staff dressed up as cheerleaders and performed skits.
“He was a real special guy, a character, a different cat,” Burnside said. “Everyone remembers him for his intensity and his bug dance, but he also had a heart of gold. He was a special ed teacher and had some of his students work as managers for the football team. I remember him playing checkers with his special ed kids. He was very dedicated to his students and his players.”
Vagotis died at 1:30 a.m. on May 7 when a tractor-trailer hit his 2019 Chevrolet Cruze, which was parked in the right lane of I-95. He is survived by his sister, Angie (Vagotis) D’Orzio of Cuyahoga Falls, OH, and predeceased by his brother, George.