Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Forest Park principal Derrick Manning stands by the school’s weight room. With a renovation project underway to upgrade everything from classrooms to locker rooms and practice fields, Manning says the Panthers are poised for a football revival.
Derrick Manning, who once served as Clayton County’s athletic director, is in his third year as principal at Forest Park High School. During his tenure, he has hired four football coaches to try and restore the once-proud, but now struggling football program. Manning recently talked with Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald reporter Gabriel Stovall about the future of the football program at Forest Park.
Question: How did you come to the decision of hiring coach Don Williams as the football coach?
Answer: “I didn’t meet coach Williams until I arrived at the school as principal three years ago. Coach Patterson who was the former AD and wrestling coach, he selected his own replacement for wrestling when he was getting ready to move back to Texas. I did my homework on this guy, and he is phenomenal. I almost said he could have filled Patterson's position.”
Q: What is it that specifically impressed you about Williams and set him apart from other candidates?
A: “He knows how to move student athletes from one level of achievement to the next. As a wrestling coach, he’s been able to take a kid who did’'t believe in himself and move him toward becoming a champion. And that quality is transferable to student athletes no matter what sport. Moreover, I was real impressed with him as a man. I saw his principles and I’ve seen that he is a program builder.”
Q: Why did you decide to make a coaching change after just one year?
A: “I just wasn’t pleased overall with the direction the program was going. When I got here, I felt like we had enough talent to at least be competitive in the county. I’m a former football coach myself, so I know the expectations. The football team is a high profile place in the school, and I just wanted to see someone who had more experience in building the program— someone who had already seen and been a part of what we wanted to build and what our vision for football here at Forest Park is.”
Q: What is the vision of Forest Park Football?
A: “We honestly want Forest Park High School to be the No. 1 program in the county. We want students and student-athletes to be asking and waiting in line to come here. We want to have sound academics, but build a rich tradition where with great effort and high expectations each year we’ll become a constant winner. This should be a place where anyone who wants to play ball at the next level can come to Forest Park and know they’ll be able to get that kind of training.”
Q: What needs to be in place that isn’t already there, in order to make that happen?
A: “Well honestly a lot of what wasn’t here is starting to fall into place in the short time coach Williams has been here. Things like strong parent support and community support. That’s important. The community must support. Then there’s the academic component. We need to be able to teach kids how to make it in life even if they don’t end up playing sports. And just have a mentality and attitude that we’re representing the school out there. I don’t believe we need to have outstanding talent. Exceptional talent is a luxury. But if we have a staff with continuity, prepared on a daily basis and year round, because football is a year round commitment, we feel like this can turn around soon.”
Q: Forest Park has had lots of turnover. How much time is the school willing to give Williams to turn it around?
A: We have no anticipation of relieving our head coach any time soon at all. Myself, our administration and this community are supporting this coach, win, lose or draw. We want it to be so that people with younger kids will say, ‘I want my kid to be coached by him.’
Q: How do you galvanize support from the school and students themselves?
A: “We’re going to continue doing things to promote school spirit. And we’re already doing that. But beyond that, we’re going to have some state of the art facilities here soon as well. We’re upgrading everything from locker rooms to practice fields. It’s an 18-month project that will be done in phases. Our kids are going to see it coming to together and it’s going to be exciting for them over the next year or so.”