MAHONE: Changing the culture is first step in improving Forest Park

Don Williams always wanted to be a head football coach, but the timing wasn’t right.

He knew that the demands of running a football program would mean sacrificing time with his own kids. There would be times he would have to miss his son’s sporting events or his daughter’s dance recitals.

So Williams passed on several opportunities to be a head coach.

With his youngest child now entering college this fall, the timing seemed right when Forest Park principal Derrick Manning approached Williams this spring about serving as acting coach while a permanent replacement for Edmond Coley was being found.

A couple weeks ago, Manning decided to remove the “acting” from Williams’ title and give him the job to rebuild the struggling program.

It seems to be the right choice.

Williams has built a reputation as a standout wrestling coach. He moved over to Forest Park at the beginning of last school year to head the school’s wrestling program, and enjoyed immediate success.

The Panthers won the county and area titles.

Now, he will try to accomplish a similar feat as the Panthers’ football coach.

Judging from the school’s most recent history, it will not be an easy task.

But after watching a spirited Forest Park workout on Tuesday afternoon, one thing is for sure — Williams and his players seem to be up for the challenge.

“This group is tired of people laughing at Forest Park football,” Williams said. “They don’t want to continue to be everyone’s homecoming game. We are trying to change the mentality of the players.”

It seems he is getting a commitment from the players. Williams lists 52 players on the upcoming season’s roster. He says he gets about 42 on average for summer workouts.

“I’m so excited about this team,” Williams said. “It is June conditioning and we are getting players to commit. These kids are hungry to win. They want to make that change.”

Williams is already further ahead of the curve than recent past Forest Park coaches. He had the luxury of going through spring practice with this group.

They are spending the summer learning Williams’ West Coast-style offense, rather than competing against other teams in 7-on-7 passing leagues.

“I want all 29 days I’ve got through this summer to just work with our guys and put our offense in,” Williams said.

The coach is not ready to make any predictions on the upcoming season, but he does expect to see a lot of improvement.

“It is not all about winning games, although we want to do that, but it’s about building character,” Williams said.

The Panthers have passed the first step with a renewed commitment.

Derrick Mahone is the sports editor for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at dmahone@news-daily.com. Follow on Twitter at @derrickmahone_.