Ned Gonet was hired as the head football coach at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh back in the 20th century. They didn’t wear leather helmets or run the flying wedge, but he began his tenure at the school long before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The former Duke University fullback and tight end enters his 34th season at the school this fall. He has more than twice as many years of continuous service at a school than any other area high school football coach, except Siler City Jordan-Matthews’ Marty Scotten, who was named head coach in 1996 and is the only other 20th century coach in the area.
Pittsboro Northwood’s Bill Hall, who has announced that this season, his 15th, will be his last at the school, was hired in 2000. Gonet was in his 20th season at Ravenscroft that year.
The Ravenscroft program is an island amid a sea of turnover. The average head coaching tenure for the other 60 area high school football teams is 2.05 years. More than half of the area’s teams are led by coaches in their first or second year.
“I think all high school coaches are concerned about the turnover,” said Apex coach Joe Kilby, who is in his third year at the school. “It takes a while to build a program. Stability helps. This year we’ll have kids who have three years in the program. They now understand what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively.
“A really big thing is that you know the kids a lot better after a couple of seasons than you do in the first couple of years.”
Gonet’s tenure is longer than the 22 head coaches in the Greater Neuse, PAC-6 and Southwest Wake, combined.
“My tenure says a lot about the school,” Gonet said. “This has been a good place to work. I’ve had some chances to go elsewhere, but this always seemed to be the best place for me.
“We’ve had some great years and some not-so-great years. But I’ve worked for people who had the same values that I have. It has been a good fit. When I came here, I never intended to stay this long.”
Every time Gonet seriously thought about leaving, he decided he wanted to see one more set of players develop.
“At this point, helping develop young men is the most satisfying part,” Gonet said. “You just want to find out how this next group is going to work out.”
Next behind Gonet and Hall in continuous service are Millbrook’s Clarence Inscore, who returned to his alma mater as head coach in 2001, and Chapel Hill’s Isaac Marsh, who was named as head coach in 2004.
Every other area head football coach has been hired since 2009.
Every senior football player in the Southwest Wake 4A, Greater Neuse 4A and PAC Six 4A – except those at East Wake, Green Hope and Hillside – has had at least two varsity head football coaches.
“There are a lot of demands on head football coaches now that we didn’t have years ago,” said Wake Forest’s Reggie Lucas, who was named head coach in 2009 after being the program’s defensive coordinator. “It is year-round. You don’t get a break and the expectations are high.”
Coaches say the expectation of players receiving college athletic scholarships has added a burden. So too has instant communication on the internet.
The biggest factor in the reduced tenure, though, might be the time demands. Teams begin off-season workouts in January, increase workouts in the summer and begin official practice in August. The top teams play into November.
Head football coaches in Wake County receive a supplement of between $3,229 to $4,845 depending on experience while assistants receive between $2,018 and $3,028.
Turnover is a concern
Gonet said turnover worries him. “You wonder if the new coaches are getting the instruction like the coaches of my generation got,” he said. “If coaches are only at a place a few years, you wonder if they can really train the younger assistants who are going to be the next generation of coaches.”
But the dearth of head coaches with experience at their current school doesn’t mean area head coaches are without experience. Many veteran coaches change jobs.
Burton Cates is in his fifth year at Lee County, but he won a N.C. High School Athletic Association state title at Eastern Randolph in 2006 and has 269 career wins.
Steve Johnson is a rookie at Enloe, but his Burlington Cummings teams won two state titles, played for three more championships and won 195 games. Pat Moser coached Graham to a state title before going to Orange.
David Howle is a 20th century coach of sorts. He coached at Bunn for 22 years before stepping aside for four years while his son played football at Penn State. Howle returned as head coach for the 2013 season and enters his second season of his second stint at the school with 182 victories.
Harnett Central’s Dave Thomas is also a repeater. He begins his second stint as the Trojans’ head coach when practice officially began Friday. He coached the program in 2000 and 2001.
Gonet’s teams have won four N.C. Independent School Athletic Association championships. The only other area head coach who has a state title to his credit at his current school is Durham Hillside’s Antonio King.
King, a former Hornets quarterback, has been stunningly successful at his alma mater. He has a 53-13 overall career record, for a winning percentage of .815.
But Wake Forest’s Lucas, another former quarterback who returned to his alma mater, surpasses that regal mark. Lucas has a 59-13 overall record and an .819 winning percentage with two state title appearances in six seasons.