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Manning still searching for right fit at Forest Park-By Derrick Mahone

The Forest Park football program has hit a snag in trying to hire a coach for the upcoming season. With no teaching slots yet open, school administrators decided to go with an interim coach until contracts are sent out next month.

In the meantime, highly-successful girls' basketball coach Steven Cole will direct the football team through offseason conditioning and spring drills.

Given the choice of another embarrassing moment of not being able to hire your original choice, this was probably a good idea. As you remember last spring, Forest Park had hired the energetic Nick Mrvos to lead the program.

But a few days into spring drills, he was told that he would not be offered a teaching contract because of system-wide budget cuts. Nevermind, Mrvos had started teaching at the school since his hire, making the long trek from Conyers to Forest Park everyday to put the once-proud, but now downtrodden football program in the right direction.

Mrvos was a highly qualified teacher, who taught Advanced Placement courses.

Jajuan Wright, who had very little high school coaching experience, was given the position after several parents and community people gave him the endorsement. He led the Panthers through a 2-8 season, and then was told in mid December that his services were no longer needed.

New principal Derrick Manning took over the administration this school year, and will now make his biggest athletic hire at the school.

The girls basketball program is in good hands with Cole and the boys team seems to be ready to turn around under Antonio Wade.

But the football program, as some would say the foundation of any school's athletic program, is in a long tailspin. Forest Park has had 10 coaches in the last 20 seasons, and hasn't had a winning season since 2000.

Manning seems interested in the athletic program. In fact, in last Friday's girls' basketball Class AAAA championship game when the team was making a failed comeback in its loss to Fayette County, Manning was in the midst of the student sections encouraging them to get behind the team.

He raised his arms for the students to cheer.

The first-year Forest Park principal is more than qualified to make a choice. Evidence was offered in December by school's athletic director John Patterson when he e-mailed me a copy of a story that appeared in the New York Times.

He made a bold, and controversy pick in 2001, when he was the principal at Glades Central High in Belle Glade, Fla. In that 2001 story, the newspaper credited him with what it called a "no-nonsense approach that has created a safer environment in the school and a greater urgency for academic achievement" in helping the poor rural area.

Manning mandated that all assistants coaches be full-time teachers. The head coach resigned over the issue, and Manning named the defensive coordinator, which went against the choice of many of the parents and community leaders.

The choice panned out as Glades Central won 27 straight games and a couple state titles.

Will Manning strike gold against with his hire at Forest Park?

Granted Glade Central was a successful program before Manning arrived, unlike the futility at Forest Park. However, he is created with putting the academic programs more in line with the athletic success.

For Manning, this is his most important athletic hire.

Derrick Mahone covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com.