FOREST PARK — It is a process that Forest Park principal Derrick Manning hates to go through, but it seems it has become customary at the school.
The Forest Park football program has become a revolving door for football coaches. Since the 2003 season, the Panthers have had nine different coaches.
In an attempt to add some stability to the program, Manning recently named former NFL player Reginald Austin as the new coach. And the former defensive back has wasted little time in getting indoctrinated into the program.
Austin, who played three seasons with the Chicago Bears, was instrumental in helping former Panther fullback/linebacker Brandon Williams, land a scholarship at NCAA Division II Tusculum in Tennessee.
Austin replaces John Diehl, who led the Panthers to an 2-8 season in his only year at the school. This will be his first head coaching position, but has been an assistant coach at Central Gwinnett, North Atlanta and Mays high schools.
“I’m very excited about getting this position,” Austin said. “I’m very passionate about football and helping young men reach their potential. I’m starting to put some things in place that I think will be helpful to the program.”
Austin will be one of three new coaches in Clayton County this coming season. Former Dutchtown coach and Lovejoy defensive coordinator Kevin Jones was recently named the new coach at Mount Zion. In December, Lovejoy named defensive coordinator Edgar Carson as its new coach.
Of the three, Austin might have the toughest chore in trying to rebuild the once-proud Forest Park program. In addition to trying to establish some stability to the program, Forest Park hasn’t had a winning season since 2000 when the Bob Smith-coached team finished with a 7-3 record.
The Panthers last playoff appearance came in 1996 under Clint Ashmore.
“He is a quality guy that I think will do a good job,” Manning said. “He is a good teacher, and the players and other students in the school really respect him. It will take a big effort from the parents and staff to work together to turn this around. We don’t like having a new coach almost every year, but I feel coach Austin is in for the long haul.”
Austin has already started the Panthers offseason conditioning program, and he said the players have shown a commitment.
“I think the players have grown to trust me, and that is a big key,” Austin said. “Yes, I think it does help that they know that I played in the NFL. The players are excited, and I think they will work hard to get better.”
Austin said he is getting the team ready for its 10-day spring football practice before transitioning to more offseason workouts. He said the team will be active on the popular 7-on-7 passing league circuit.
“I think these kids are buying into what we are trying to do,” Austin said. “They want to win and get better. They are showing up for the weight training and listening to what we are teaching. We want to make the community excited again for Forest Park football.”