Short tenures are the norm for high school football coaches

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 3, 2013 

  • Area 4A coaches and their tenure

    Bold face: head coach at the school for at least five seasons

    Clayton Randy Pinkowski 2013
    East Wake John Poulnott 2010
    Garner Thurman Leach 2013
    Harnett Central Dave Thomas, 2013
    Knightdale Rob Senseney 2010
    Rolesville# Jermaine Evans 2014
    Smithfield-Selma* David Lawhon 2012
    Southeast Raleigh Marvin Burke 2012
    West Johnston Jimmy Williams 2013
    Broughton TBA 2013
    Enloe Mike Massey 2012
    Heritage Jason McGeorge 2011
    Leesville Road Chad Smothers 2011
    Millbrook Clarence Inscore 2001
    Sanderson Ben Kolstad 2013
    WF-Rolesville Reggie Lucas 2009
    Wakefield Rod Sink 2012
    Apex Joe Kilby 2012
    Athens Drive Chris Martin 2012
    Cary Kurt Glendenning 2013
    Fuquay-Varina TBA 2013
    Green Hope Kwame Dixon 2011
    Holly Springs Will Orbin 2012
    Lee County* Burton Cates 2009
    Middle Creek Mike Castellano 2012
    Panther Creek Sean Crocker 2012
    East Chapel Hill Jon Sherman 2013
    Hillside Antonio King 2009
    Jordan LaDwaun Harrison 2012
    Northern Durham Gary Merrill 2011
    Person David Kleine 2013
    Riverside David Hackney 2011
    Southern Durham* Adrian Jones 2007

    #Will play first varsity season in 2014

    *Moving to 3A in 2013

Turnover tops tenure when it comes to high school football coaches.

Thirty of the 32 area 4A schools will have head football coaches in the fall who have led their teams for four years or less.

A high school football coach staying at a school for a decade or more may be the stereotype, but such longevity is extremely rare. Few high school players have the same head coach for all four of their varsity seasons.

“Having a new coach was difficult at first,” said Enloe’s Jamal Frazier, who played for Ron Clark as a sophomore and Mike Massey last season.

“You wonder what kind of coach is he. You wonder how he is going to treat you. But after a few practices and some time in the weight room, you build a relationship.”

About a fourth of the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s schools, currently 396, hire a new football coach in a typical year. That matches the national average, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

There are reasons for all the coaching changes. Coaches say the demands of the job are higher than ever. They also cite an increased emphasis by parents on college athletic scholarships, greater time commitments, higher expectations and the growth of social media.

Ned Gonet has been Ravenscroft’s head football coach for 32 seasons. That’s almost three times longer than the combined tenures of the eight head coaches in the Greater Neuse 4A, who have a total of 11 years experience as head coach at their current schools.

The list of schools with new coaches is striking.

West Johnston High, Sanderson High, Clayton High, Cary High, Roxboro Person High, Garner High, Harnett Central High and East Chapel Hill High have named new head football coaches for the 2013 season, and Broughton and Fuquay-Varina are expected to name new coaches soon.

West’s Jimmy Williams, Harnett Central’s Dave Thomas and Clayton’s Randy Pinkowski have been head coaches at other schools, but they, and former Cary coach Ben Kolstad who is moving to Sanderson, will be starting fresh in building programs at different schools this fall. Cary’s Kurt Glendenning, Person’s David Kleine, Garner’s Thurman Leach and East’s Jon Sherman are taking new jobs at schools where they have been assistants.

Clarence Inscore, who was named as Millbrook’s head coach in 2001, is the dean of the area 4A schools with 12 seasons. He is followed by Southern Durham’s Adrian Jones (2007). All others were hired in 2009 or later.

“It’s tough to stay at the same place for a long time now,” said retiring Clayton coach Gary Fowler, who was the Comets’ head coach for 28 years. “It’s getting tougher every year.”

Three of the former area head coaches are retiring. Five others are moving to other schools and a couple stepped down, saying they thought it was time for the school to have a different coach.

Dan Schuster, the assistant director of coach education at the National Federation, said state officials throughout the country are seeing a higher turnover rate in all sports, not just football.

“We don’t have hard data, but the turnover rates seems to be increasing,” said Schuster, who oversees a new coach certification course.

Mac Morris, an executive director of the N.C. Coaches Association, said the turnover in head football coaches may be a reflection of changing times.

“You just don’t see as many ‘lifers,’” he said. “I used to go to the summer clinic and know most of the coaches. But it used to be that the kids all stayed at their high school, too. Now, you see the good athletes transferring around because someone has convinced them that the grass is greener somewhere else.

“Parental expectations seem to grow every year.”

Clayton’s Fowler said his son Drew is interested in being a high school coach. The former coach has told his son that the commitment is huge.

“I tell him it isn’t the same as it used to be,” Fowler said. “I was talking to one coach the other day and he tells his assistants that they need to plan on work every day during the summer. Work every day with no pay. That’s unbelievable, but that’s where we are now.

“The year-round requirements on football coaches, including assistants, makes the job more difficult. The weight room is supervised six days a week almost year-round at some schools.

“You’ve got assistants being paid to coach in August through November, but they are coaching all year long,” Fowler continued. “And every word and action is scrutinized. With the growth of social media, high school coaches are criticized in public almost continuously. These are guys with families. At a certain point, the $2,000, $3,000 you get as a coaching supplement as an assistant isn’t worth it.”

The average high school coach in the Wake County system receives a coaching supplement of $2,359, according to the N.C. Department of Instruction. A Wake County head football coach with 20 years experience receives a supplement of $4,845 and is estimated to work more than 1,200 hours per year on football.

Guthrie suspects social media is playing a big role in coaching turnover. A disgruntled fan can go online and say derogatory things, true or false, about a coach and a program. Fowler said he believes players are impacted by what is posted.

“It creates a negative atmosphere,” Fowler said. “The community can become divided. It’s another distraction and it can hurt a coach’s family. It adds to the mental cost of coaching.”

Fowler and Nelson Smith, who is stepping down as the Garner High football coach but will remain as athletic director, said the pursuit of college athletic scholarships by families makes high school coaching more difficult.

“We had three Division I recruits at Clayton in the last 28 years,” Fowler said. “But there were plenty more whose parents thought their son was (worthy of being recruited).”

Garner has produced more scholarship winners but not as many as some parents expected.

“You have people telling parents that their son is going to get a college scholarship,” Smith said. “Parents believe it, and they are disappointed. I bothers me sometimes when a kid gets no offers because he wants it so badly or his family needs the help.

“We do all we can to help kids get to college, but the bottom line is that we don’t have any college scholarships. We have no control over who the colleges want. At times, I don’t understand recruiting, but it is the college’s call, not ours.”

Smith said there have been several players he thought could play college football who got no offers.

“Parents get upset,” he said. “I think it’s a factor in coaches getting worn down.”

Bobby Guthrie, the retiring Wake County senior administrator for athletics, said the expectations for winning have changed during the past decade.

“The success of some programs in the area has put pressure on other schools to be as successful,” Guthrie said. “If this program is winning eight, nine, 10 games most seasons, then why isn’t ours? That attitude makes it tougher on coaches. It knocks things out of kilter. For every winning team, there is a losing team.”

Southern’s Jones said there are increasing expectations to win every year and to obtain scholarships for players, but he believes he has built a support system that has made his job a little easier in recent years.

“Older coaches taught me that you have to have rules for your players and your coaches, and you have to stick to them,” Jones said. “Eventually, everybody, including your parents and your supporters, learn that you are going to enforce the rules and it becomes a little easier. But it takes time.”

And time to establish a program is a rare commodity.

Last fall, five of the nine schools in the Tri-Nine 4A Conference had new head football coaches. The Greater Neuse will have four new coaches this fall, and the longest tenured head coaches in the league will be Knightdale’s Rob Senseney and East Wake’s John Poulnott, who took their positions in 2010.

The combination of longer hours and more demands take a mental toll, Inscore said.

“The hours, demands and lack of support are enough to burn people out,” he said. “I know the demands on teachers have really increased in the past three to five years.”

Jimmy Williams, West Johnston’s new coach, was weary when he resigned as East Wake’s head coach four years ago after 14 years leading the program. He became an assistant coach at Leesville Road for a season and an assistant at West for three seasons.

“It was nice to step back and not be the face of a program,” Williams said. “Just having my focus on coaching one position or area. Being a guy who the head coach could just say, ‘Hey, I need you to do this or coach these guys.’”

Southern’s Jones and Millbrook’s Inscore have had extra motivation to remain at their schools because they coach at their alma maters. Jones said he still wants to give back to his school and leave his stamp on the program. Inscore said he loved Millbrook as a student and athlete, and he still loves the school and the community. That has been a factor in his longevity.

“I am a person that makes a commitment and stays with it through good times and bad,” Inscore said. “I like to put down roots and get invested in the school and community.”

He said he has been fortunate to work beside people who understand the worth of the program isn’t always reflected by the number of victories.

“I’ve worked with people who understand that wins and losses are going to happen, but making a difference in a kid’s life is the real reason we do our jobs,” he said. “All coaches are competitive in nature and we all want to win, but if you let wins and losses determine happiness or success you are in trouble.”

The decrease in coaching longevity is one reason the National Federation is stressing that new coaches become certified by completing a coaching basics course. The NCHSAA now requires all non-faculty coaches and all new hires to complete the course within 60 days of employment and recommends all coaches complete the course by 2015.

D. Clay Best contributed to this story.

TSTEVENS: 919-829-8910

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