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JOE WILLIAMS: Franklin High coaching carousel continues

The first time I saw former Franklin boys basketball coach Jay Johnson, he was a scrawny freshman playing point guard on the Rebels basketball team. As a really young media guy, I was brash enough to ask then-coach Joe Daves about starting a freshman in the opening round of the state basketball tournament.


“Just watch him play,” Daves growled with a smile, in that low, gravelly voice that was a perfect match for his stature and intensity. “He’s a winner.”


Daves was right as two years later Johnson and his teammates went on to win the 1989 Class AAA state championship.


I discovered three things about Johnson during that run; he was a “yes sir,” “no sir,” kid, he did not quit, and he was and is a Franklin Rebel to the core. It was no surprise when he was named the head basketball coach 10 years ago.


His resignation Monday was nothing short of stunning.


Johnson says “…it was just time,” but those outside the building believe there must be more to the move. True, the Rebels’ record has struggled in the last four years, finishing 15-13 last season, but over the course of his career Johnson’s teams won nearly 200 games, including six seasons with 20-plus victories including one with 30 wins. If there is more to it, Johnson won’t say. He’s too classy and too protective of his alma mater. But something doesn’t seem right.


Franklin is struggling through a difficult time, now with four new head coaches in the five major sports in less than a year - all apparently at the behest of the administration.


Craig Clayton was successful in football before being forced out last year, and maybe he should be happy in the final analysis. Donnie Webb took over the program and won four games last year instead of the usual eight or nine. Based on injuries and what he had to work with, if I had a vote for county coach of the year, Donnie Webb would have gotten it. Some might consider it a losing season, but in actuality it was a winner on the whole. Webb and his staff got everything possible out of the players.


The Rebels also got new head coaches in girls basketball and baseball, leaving the staff of the softball program as the only intact staff of the five majors. A new wrestling coach is also on the list.


All public schools go through an ebb-and-tide period in athletics as different groups of students move through the programs, but coaches don’t normally pay a death penalty price, especially with winning records. Part of the issue on Hillsboro Road could be the systematic rezoning by the county to move Franklin residents out of Franklin High. The majority of the city is zoned to Centennial while a large group is zoned to Independence, leaving Franklin to draw students from unincorporated areas of the county. In some circles, Franklin is more and more being called “Grassland High”.


In fairness, Franklin is not the only high school with strong coach recruiting experience. The football job at Ravenwood has been a revolving door in the past five years, spinning so fast that some have been spun out the other side without ever sitting at a desk. Brentwood is looking for a third coach in three years after the “long-term commitment” from Mark Pemberton lasted less than a year and Scott Blade just landed at Independence.


It’s not just football. Centennial has a new boys basketball coach, looking for a new girls basketball coach and is on its fifth softball coach is five years. Ravenwood has changed softball coaches and is searching for a girl’s basketball coach; Brentwood’s softball coach is also new. Page has new football and boys basketball leaders. The list doesn’t even touch volleyball, track, golf or tennis.


But Franklin is, has been, and will be the county’s high school - what happens there is magnified by its historical significance. When its coaching lineup starts looking like a game of 52-card pickup, someone needs to ask why the deck keeps getting dropped.


Joe Williams is a high school sports enthusiast and contributing sports writer for the Williamson Herald. He can be reached at

Posted on: 4/23/2013


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