Members of Franklin County’s football staff knew one another well before they started coaching together.
There are coaches who played for other coaches on the staff when they were in high school, there are coaches who were teammates on the Flyer football team, and there’s a father whose sons played for FCHS.
This season ended earlier than the Flyers had hoped, with a loss to Central Friday in the Class 4A District 4 championship game, but in its last 21 games FCHS has gone 19-2.
For coaches with ties to Franklin County, they love football, and they love the school.
“We’ve had some turnover, but the people we have need to believe in the same things,” FCHS head coach Eddie James said in an interview last week. “This year we have 13 coaches, and they’re 100% all in with what we’re trying to do. Loyalty is important, too.”
This year’s varsity assistant coaches are Don Polly, Kaelin Ammons, Joey Thacker, Dennis Ledford, Michael Gearhart, Keith Roberts, Steve Perkins, Greg Moore, Daniel Anderson, Nick Moore and Hassiem Allen.
Gearhart, a 2005 FCHS graduate who played football for Flyers, is in his first year as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He spent the previous two years as an assistant at Western Hills, and he’d also been head coach at Bondurant Middle School.
“It’s been great being with these guys again,” Gearhart said. “It’s like family.”
James and lin Ammons were teammates of Gearhart, and Thacker and Ledford were on staff when he played. He also played for Moore.
“There’s a sense of pride,” Gearhart said. “I felt it when I was a player here. As a coach you want to make sure the kids feel the same way you felt, if not better.
“It’s like being here with your brothers. For the most part we get along. Sometimes we disagree, but at the end of the day, we love each other.”
Ledford, the team’s defensive coordinator, has been coaching for 18 years, 15 at FCHS. He was the Flyers’ head coach for two years, and he’s the athletic director at Elkhorn Middle School.
“I’ve coached every kid who’s played at Franklin County in the last 18 years at one level or another,” Ledford said.
“I’m very much not interested in being a head coach. I look at it as I get to have my cake and eat it too. I don’t have to be the bad guy. I’m still pretty strict, but I don’t have to be the be all and end all as far as being the disciplinarian, the bearer of bad news. I get to be the good guy.”
Thacker, the head girls basketball coach at FCHS, played football at Elkhorn City High School. He’s coached football at Franklin County for 12 years.
Thacker, who stepped away from coaching for a year when his wife was sick, is in his second season at FCHS in this stint, serving as offensive coordinator, a position he had at Elkhorn City and Lexington Christian.
“Our staff is as good as any staff out there,” Thacker said. “Our staff prepares like a DI staff prepares for a Saturday football game. I'm confident in that.”
He was also confident that James would be a successful coach.
“One thing about Eddie is even when he was a player, he was sort of destined to do this here,” Thacker said.
“I remember writing Chuck Smith when Eddie was trying to get on as an assistant at Boyle County, and I told him Eddie was going to be the next Chuck Smith of high school football.”
Smith, Boyle’s head football coach, has won six state championships.
One person with no previous ties to FCHS is Hatton, who’s in his second season with the Flyers.
Hatton coached in Ohio before a job transfer brought him to Frankfort.
“When I moved down here I was looking for someplace to go coach,” he said. “I came across Eddie’s name and number and called him up.
“It’s a great group. We all enjoy being together, and we have a lot of fun.”
But when things aren't so fun, the coaches’ familiarity with one another can be a plus.
“It makes it easier,” said Ammons, who graduated in 2007. “When anyone gets angry or anything like that, you know how to take it, and it’s easier to get over stuff, too.
“It’s good to see kids who grew up watching you play living their dream of going out and playing. That’s really something else.”
Polly’s sons, Nathan and Derek, both played football at FCHS. Don Polly is in his first year with the current coaching staff.
“For an old guy who watched them as players grow up and now to get to coach with them, it doesn’t get any better,” he said.
“It makes it better,” Polly said about the connections of the staff. ‘We know each other, and we don’t hold back. We can say anything, but we’re one big team.”
That’s a familiar theme for the coaches.
“I never thought I wanted to coach football,” said Moore, a 1999 graduate. “I thought I’d miss playing football more if I was around it, but it’s being able to help kids in the community you live in.
“There’s a sense of pride. I love it. I played here, members of my family played here. There’s a sense of being part of a family. There’s really a family atmosphere.”
The staff eats dinner together every Sunday during the season, and just like all families, sometimes there are debates before common ground is found.
“We have some discussions, and people aren’t afraid to speak,” James said, “but when we leave our coaches meeting on Sunday, we’re all in on our decisions. They roll with it, sell it to the kids, and it’s worked.”