So just how many career victories does longtime Manchester High School head football coach Jim France have? A lot. A whole heckuva lot, in fact. But no one is exactly sure how many after a controversy that arose late last season.
NEW FRANKLIN So just how many career victories does longtime Manchester High School head football coach Jim France have?
A lot. A whole heckuva lot, in fact.
But no one is exactly sure how many after a controversy that arose late last season.
The answer may be coming sooner rather than later, possibly as soon, in fact, as "at any time," according to the man at the center of all this, France.
Unofficially, the total is at 385 after last year’s 7-4 finish that included France’s – and the school’s – 20th Principals Athletic Conference and 22nd state playoffs appearance. That would put France four ahead of the now-retired Bob Lutz of Ironton, making him the all-time wins leader in Ohio. He had entered the season with 378 victories.
France went into a Week 7 home game against PAC newcomer Orrville with 381 wins, tying him with Lutz. A victory would move France into first place, which ultimately happened with an easy 42-7 decision over the Red Riders.
A community celebration had been planned for after the game to commemorate the event, but those festivities were called off after, in the days leading up to the game, some questions arose as to if the total was really correct. There may have been some discrepancies.
At that point, the school district, in the person of Manchester Schools Superintendent Dr. James Robinson, called a moratorium on the pursuit of the record until the situation was cleared up.
But, 15 months later, nothing has changed – officially and publicly.
Not long after the issue surfaced, the school district – namely Robinson and MHS Assistant Principal Scott Ross, and since June new Athletic Director Mike Ankrom – has been working hard, poring over records and trying to find any possible problems and, if possible, rectifying them.
That effort has pretty much been completed, and the district has come up with a tentative total, derived in no small way from records provided by Robinson, who served under France as an assistant for nearly 40 years.
When asked Thursday morning, Robinson wouldn’t divulge that number.
"I’d prefer not to do that," he said.
When pressed further about the proximity of that number to the unofficial total of 385, Robinson would say only, "If ‘Koach’ (France) wins a lot of games this season, he can tie or break the record."
That would seem to suggest a total somewhere in the low 370s.
It doesn’t really matter, though, because the ball has been passed to France.
"We’ve given him what we have, and now he has to take a look at that, compare it to the records he has, and come up with the total that we’re going to go forward with," Robinson. "That’s the only proper thing to do, to give him the last word on this. He’ll announce his total when he’s done, when he’s ready, whenever that is. He deserves that. He’s earned that right."
According to France and to those who’ve seen it, he has boxes and boxes and containers of records, statistics and memorabilia in the basement of his home. It’s a history lesson on Manchester football since the middle of the Nixon administration.
France has already started going through his "stuff."
"I’m still only in the 1970s. I’ve got a long way to go," said France, who is entering his 46th season, having coached from 1971-84 and then from 1986-present. "I’m going to keep working on it."
All football coaches hate distractions almost as much as losing, for the two are connected. Distractions can easily lead to losses, as they get the team focused on things other than football.
Understanding that, then, it was thought that France would announce that total – his total, which will become the official total - either before preseason practice begins next Tuesday, before the regular season starts Aug. 25 against visiting Chippewa or wait until after the season is over.
That France would do it during the season and perhaps risk causing a football field-sized distraction that could hurt his team, appeared to be unthinkable.
Well, think again, because it might just happen.
"I could announce it at any time," France said late Thursday afternoon as he oversaw a team conditioning session.
Including in the season?
"Yes, it could be in the season," he said.
France added, "I want to get it done as soon as I can."
France said he understands why people are interested in his victories total and the likelihood that he has already broken the record, or is very close to doing so. And he appreciates the support from anybody and everybody.
If the truth be told, he’s interested in the record, too. He’s only human.
"But I don’t walk around thinking about it," France said. "I’m interested only in getting these kids ready to play this season."
That’s the way France is. It’s the way he’s always been.
"He’s the same guy I met way back when," said Robinson, who did his student teaching at the high school a year after France arrived, and then was hired as a teacher. "Hardly anything about him has changed, except for the fact that he now understands kids a lot better.
"He doesn’t really care about all this record stuff. He had nothing to do with any of this issue about the number of victories he has. He’s absolutely 180 degrees the other way.
"When you’re trying to figure out how all this happened, you have to remember that when he began coaching, there was no Internet. You didn’t have all these websites about high school football, with all these people writing about it and talking about it.
"Who knows who from this school called in all those records brginning 45 years ago. We’ve had basically one football coach in all that time, but about four or five different athletic directors."
And when France started, neither he nor anyone else thought he’d still be at it nearly a half-century later. That was not even a consideration.
"I just wanted to make it to the next season," he once joked.
So there was no need to check, double-check and triple-check all these records and making them officially official. It didn’t matter.
Now it does, though.
And when it’s all over at some point and this thing is finally settled one way or another, no one will be happier about it than France, who can go back to just being a football coach.