Rich Stuart can’t remember what it felt like not being Belen’s football coach.
For 34 years Stuart has been the one calling the plays from the Wolverines’ sidelines.
That will no longer be the case starting next season.
Belen announced late Monday night that Stuart has accepted a promotion to become the school’s new Associate Athletic Director in charge of Belen’s middle school sports program, and therefore will no longer coach the football team.
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Stuart, 57, steps aside as the coach with the most victories of any coach in Miami-Dade County history and a record of 224-143. Stuart surpassed the mark previously held by former Miami Beach and Palmetto coach Jim Kroll in October of last season.
"I don’t even know how I’m going to feel yet," Stuart said. “I’m definitely going to miss being around my coaches. And definitely being in the middle of those games on Friday night.”
Stuart’s successor will be defensive coordinator Eddie Delgado, a Belen alumnus that has been a part of the team’s coaching staff the past 26 seasons.
"It’s been an honor to work side by side with coach Stuart for 26 years," Delgado said. "I was lucky to have been coached by him when I was a student-athlete and then to have returned to my alma mater and work with him was great. I have big shoes to fill but I’m looking forward to it and grateful for the opportunity."
Added Staurt: "I couldn’t be happier for Eddie. He’s an excellent coach, great with the players and great with people. I never had to worry about the defense at all."
Stuart leaves a long-standing legacy of gridiron and academic success at Belen.
The Wolverines have won three consecutive district titles, six overall and were a state runner-up in 2009.
During that span, Stuart has helped 155 student-athletes make it to the college level including 19 to Ivy League schools.
"Coach Stuart has been an inspiration to athletes on the football field and beyond for over three decades," Belen principal Jose E. Roca said in a statement. "His dedication as a coach during the wins and loses has been an example to our young men. We are blessed that although he won’t be coaching football he will remain a vital member of our school community and continue to form young men."
Stuart started as a physical education teacher at Belen after graduating from Florida State University and spent two seasons as an assistant coach before being tabbed the school’s varsity coach in 1983.
While his students were succeeding in the classroom, football success took some time to build. But by 2000, the Wolverines had their first playoff win and by 2002, their first 10-win season.
It wasn’t long before Belen was scoring victories over some of the county’s best such as Northwestern, Norland, Edison, Booker T. Washington and Jackson.
Under Stuart’s tutelage, Belen has made it to the playoffs 15 times in the past 17 seasons and made some more history this past season.
The Wolverines became the first Dade team to play a regular season game overseas when Belen played Georgia’s Marist High in Dublin, Ireland.
Stuart’s new job will keep him from coaching varsity football, but he will now take on the challenge of helping mold the younger athletes in football and other sports at the school.
"I really am looking forward to this new chapter," Stuart said. "It’s an exciting new venture and I think it should be something fun to do."