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Forest Park changing coaches, not goal to rebuild

Photo by Gabriel Stovall 
John Diehl will replace Don Williams as Forest Park football coach. Diehl, who has coached in Florida, New York and Missouri, will inherit a program that went 0-10 in Williams’ only season. Williams will remain on staff as defensive coordinator.

Photo by Gabriel Stovall John Diehl will replace Don Williams as Forest Park football coach. Diehl, who has coached in Florida, New York and Missouri, will inherit a program that went 0-10 in Williams’ only season. Williams will remain on staff as defensive coordinator.

FOREST PARK — Forest Park football coach Don Williams announced to his team that he would step down as Panthers head coach in order to settle into a supporting role.

John Diehl, who was hired on as an assistant coach in the last month of the season, and has had head coaching stops in Florida, New York and, most recently, St. Louis, Mo., was named as Forest Park’s new head coach.

Williams announced his decision to 59 players — including several who didn’t play this year but are interested in joining Forest Park for next season — and a smattering of other coaches and school officials, including principal Derrick Manning.

Williams wanted to make it clear, however, that his stepping back was not the same as him deserting his team.

“God’s given me an opportunity. He puts us somewhere for a reason,” Williams said. “I feel like he gave me an opportunity to have charge over these young men. I’m not leaving these young men, but we have a chance now to add to our staff and be better.”

Diehl said he would immediately begin implementing his five-step program that he believes can bring Forest Park back to respectability after 13 straight losing seasons.

The coach gave an acronym for the word “win” that he said he wants to instill as the prevailing attitude for Forest Park turnaround.

“For us, the word win means what’s important now,” Diehl said. “Losing can become a habit, but so can winning.”

Diehl, 57, said stability and seeing the rebuilding process through at a school that hasn’t had a coach stay longer than two full seasons since Bob Smith ended his six year tenure in 2002 would be key to the Panthers' success, and something he can bring.

“This is my last harrah,” Diehl said. “I have no doubt that I’m going to finish my career here. I may coach for five years or 10 or 14 or 15 years, but this is it for me.”

Diehl said Williams will remain on staff and fill the role of defensive coordinator. He said it was important that Williams’ place on the team was cemented to provide continuity.

And linebacker Blake Kennedy, who will be a junior next year, said he agrees.

“We still have the same core. It’s just more staffing, more leaders and more people that can help take us in the right direction. I’m excited about how things are going to work now. We’re not losing anything. We’re just adding to the program.”

Diehl said some high school coaches and programs make the mistake of trying to force a certain system or scheme of play into a program without the athletes or staff in place to make it work.

Diehl insists that would not be his method.

“When you look at it, an elite NFL football team gets good through the draft,” he said. “An elite college football team gets good through recruiting. In high school, we can neither draft or recruit. We can only adapt. High school teams that become elite adapt to what they have. That’s what we’ll do.”

The good thing for Forest Park and Diehl is they will have the luxury of being together through winter conditioning, spring ball, summer conditioning and fall camp -- something that was not the case when Williams officially took over after spring practice this year.

Diehl ended the team meeting by huddling up his players and leading them as they rocked and swayed, shouting ‘The swagger is back.’

Kennedy said Diehl’s passion is already starting to become contagious.

“He wants it,” Kennedy said. “He wants us to have it too. The passion in the weight room, every thing. He’ll help us to make this a good outcome.”