Paul Straub, Jesuit High School’s beloved former teacher, coach, athletic director, and alumni director, passed away late Tuesday (June 6) in Tampa at the age of 95.
Straub served Jesuit for 43 years, from 1949 to 1992, under 12 school presidents, making an extraordinary impact on generations of Tigers with his passion and dedication.
A native of West Virginia born June 8, 1921, Straub lost both legs during World War II in a shell explosion at Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater. After three years in Navy hospitals, Straub returned to the University of Tampa and graduated in 1948.
He arrived at Jesuit with his wooden legs in 1949, as a history and science teacher, as well as football, basketball, and track & field coach. Except for a brief stint working at UT in the ’50s, Straub was an institution at Jesuit for more than four decades.
“As a young man, not much older than our current students, Coach Straub was an American war hero,” said Jesuit president Fr. Richard C. Hermes, S.J. “Subsequently, his inspiring impact on generations of Jesuit Tigers made him a living legend in the school community, for nearly 70 years.
“As we mourn the passing of Paul Straub, we celebrate his life and thank God for giving our students an unsurpassable role model.”
Jesuit’s first lay coach, Straub, in his first year at the school, led Jesuit basketball to the 1950 State Championship, the first in school history and first by a Catholic school in Florida, setting the tone for a remarkable career.
“He was an inspirational, larger-than-life figure in so many ways,” said Jesuit basketball coach Neal Goldman, who began at the school in the early 1980s. “Past the obvious fact that he was a war hero who overcame tremendous adversity, I was always struck by his engaging, positive outlook, and his zest for life.”
The list of awards Straub earned is extensive and includes recognition from the U.S. Naval Academy, National Football Foundation, U.S. Congress, University of Tampa Hall of Fame for Leadership, and Florida High School Coaches Hall of Fame. In 1978, he was named Athletic Director of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association, and in 1981, Jesuit’s baseball field was named in his honor.
Straub’s outsized influence is evidenced by the Spring 1992 edition of the Jesuit Alumni News. Upon Straub’s impending retirement, the 12-page newsletter printed four lengthy testimonials to him, by student (Michael Donohue ’92), faculty (Ernie Charette ’63), staff (Darlene Swierat), and administration (Rector of the Jesuit community Fr. Michael Kennelly, S.J.), and quoted many others who voiced tremendous love and respect for Straub.
Said Fr. Richard G. Hartnett, S.J., who had worked alongside Straub for years: “The retirement of Paul Straub will touch the hearts of all alumni and take a bit of the hearts of all Jesuit personnel – administrators, faculty, and staff – with him. Paul has been a dedicated and conscientious teacher, coach, counselor, athletic director, alumni director, and public relations man. He will be sorely missed.”
Said Fr. Rodney Kissinger, S.J., who was instrumental in bringing Straub to Jesuit: “From the very beginning Paul was 100% for his job and his players. No sacrifice was too great to make for them. He was a great inspiration to the whole school and was highly respected by all.”
Said Kennelly: “Jesuit High School of Tampa has had a truly great Coach, a good teacher, a great Christian Catholic gentleman in Paul Straub – a ‘Man for Others.’”
Straub was connected to many Jesuit milestones such as the campus relocation from downtown to Himes Avenue in 1956; the opening of the gymnasium (Al Lopez Sports Complex) in 1961-62; the historic 1966 Jesuit Invitational Track Meet that broke racial barriers; the 1968 football State Championship; and the beginning of the wrestling, soccer, and cross country programs, to name a few.
His accomplishments were many, but it is his effect on people that is remembered.
“He encouraged and motivated me often as a young coach with many pearls of wisdom,” Goldman said. “I consider Coach Straub to be one of the greatest men I have ever met.”
Straub’s spirit, kindness, and determination resonated throughout Jesuit for the second half of the 20th century, as Charette wrote when Straub retired.
“The halls of Jesuit will never be empty of the legacy of Coach Straub,” Charette said. “We are enriched beyond measure by having known him.”