Photo by Heather Middleton
By Derrick Mahone
Fresh off of leading the Forest Park girls' basketball team to its best finish in 41 years, coach Steven Cole has been placed in charge of trying to revive the school's anemic football program.
Cole was named interim coach of the Panthers football team through spring practice as the school continues to search for a permanent coach. Forest Park relieved first-year coach Jajuan Wright of his coaching duties in mid December after leading the team to a 2-8 record.
Wright took over as football coach in the middle of spring practice when newly-hired coach Nick Mrvos was not offered a teaching contract after school system-wide budget cuts.
School athletic director John Patterson said the "current status of the economy" has hampered the search. He said the lack of teaching positions at the school is one of the big hold-ups in the selection process.
"We have had some good candidates, but right now there are no teaching positions," Patterson said. "We feel real confident that we will get the right coach in here. We want to be real patient and give him some years to build a program. We want to make the right and best choice."
Patterson said that teaching contracts will likely go out in the next two months. In the meantime, Cole, who served as coach during the 2005 season, will lead the Panthers through offseason conditioning and spring drills.
"I'm here to add some stability until a new coach is in place," said Cole, who finished his only season with a 2-8 record. "I'm hoping its just on an interim basis. We will keep things pretty basic during spring."
The football team hasn't had a winning season since going 7-3 in 2000, and its last playoff appearance was during the 1996 season.
"We don't want to hire someone, and then not be able to bring them in," Patterson said. "We will know more about the teaching positions once contracts go out. We want someone that will be able to work in the building."
In a related matter, the school board will also take up a proposal to cut coaching supplements as part of its 2011-12 budget. The school board is not expected to take up the proposal until June.
Cole is a very popular coach at Forest Park after leading the girls' basketball team to consecutive Final Four appearances the last two seasons. Last week, the Lady Panthers lost to Fayette County in the Class AAAA title game at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The majority of the team returns next season, including Cole's daughter, Ashlee, a standout guard. Cole is also hopeful the school will have a coach in place by the end of the school year, which ends in May.
He said he is not planning on coaching football in the fall.
"Not at this moment," Cole said. "I was brought in for stability purposes to make sure things were ran right."