The head coach’s head coach, Nancy France, walked out of the stands at James R. France Stadium last Friday night while carrying a bouquet of flowers.

With her husband, Manchester High School head football coach Jim France, hovering right around the state record for career victories for over a year, seemingly everything that could be said about him in various media platforms and otherwise, has been uttered.

Or so we thought.

To find out if that were really the case, I went to Nancy, who knows the guy – her forever assistant coach -- better than anyone after knowing him for a lifetime, and being married to him for 53 years.

"What’s a story about Koach (that’s his nickname, just check the license plate on his pick-up truck, or his signature to those who know him) that you’ve never told anyone?" Nancy was asked as she headed down to the field to join the celebration for him after he notched the record-setter, win No. 382, with an exciting, come-from-behind 58-42 decision over arch rival Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in the regular-season finale.

After stopping dead in her tracks and then thinking for about 10 seconds, Nancy came up with one. I’m pretty sure I have heard all the stories about this guy, but I had never heard this one. So I’m pretty sure it’s new and fresh.

"Ever since he was playing football – quarterback, of course – at Springfield, I think he wanted to be a teacher and coach someday," said Nancy, who graduated from the high school in 1962, a year behind Jim. "But I think he had always thought it would be at Springfield."

That’s understandable – easily so. As much as France is a Manchester guy, having been coach of the Panthers for 46 of the 47 years he’s been there, including the last 32, and serving as the school principal since 1984, he’s really more of a Springfield guy. He was born and raised there and has lived basically his entire life in the community. He still attends church – and serves as the longtime custodian for – Sawyerwood United Methodist, located no more than a long pass away from the house where he lived all but a few years while growing up.

At Springfield, he played baseball, basketball and football, the last of which for the legendary Russ Pastuck, about whom he speaks with reference. The school’s sports hall of fame is named for Pastuck, with France being one of the inductees.

So the tie to Springfield – and the Spartans – is certainly there.

France did go back to Springfield for just one season, 1985, when he coached at the middle school after then Manchester Schools Superintendent Marco Burnette said he could not coach football anymore after becoming principal. That lasted just that one season, for France’s replacement, Tim Flaherty, formerly the University of Akron offensive line coach under Jim Dennison, went 2-8 for the Panthers’ first losing season in 17 years. Burnette and the school board wasted no time giving the job back to France – begging him to come back – in 1986, and he has remained there ever since, still never having suffered a losing record.

But as far as staying at Springfield and making a career of it, it never happened. He coached two years at Coventry, including one, in 1970, as head coach, and then went to Manchester in 1971 when another lrgend, Les "Swede" Olsson, retired after 25 seasons. So in essence, Manchester has had just two football coaches in over 70 years.

"As it turned out, that was a great move for him to come to Manchester. He loves it here," said Nancy, whose father worked on the construction of the current Manchester High School in 1958 and ’59.

And the Manchester community loves him back. Most fans have never known a time when he wasn’t the coach of the Panthers.

The year Manchester opened, 1959, France, then playing at Springfield, came there for a preseason basketball scrimmage.

"I had never been there. I didn’t know where Manchester was, how far away it was," France said. "I remember thinking, ‘Do I need to pack a lunch?’ "

Only if he planned on staying, ahem.

But if France had gone to Springfield and accepted any of the offers he had been extended over the years to go elsewhere, or if he had stayed at Coventry, then history would have been altered drastically and last Friday night might not have happened. But France didn’t, so it did, with a lot of pomp and circumstance.

Not without some heart-stopping moments, though, against the Royals, who, along with Fairless, could have gained a piece of the Principals Athletic Conference championship by defeating Manchester. But the Panthers (8-2 overall) won the crown outright for the second straight year – both times with a 7-0 record – and ran its string of consecutive league wins to 16 dating back to 2015. It is Manchester’s 21st PAC crown. Fairless (6-1) was second and CVCA (5-2) third.

The Panthers also made the playoffs for the second year in a row and the 23rd time overall. At No. 4 in the final Division V, Region 17 rankings, they clinched a first-round home game – a rematch, as it were – against No. 5 Fairless (8-2 overall) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The Panthers won at Fairless 51-14 five weeks ago. The last time the schools met twice in a season was 2013, when Manchester, after losing 49-48 in three overtimes at Fairless during the regular season, rolled past the Falcons 35-7 in a second-round playoff game eight weeks later on the way to making it to the state semifinals. It’s a fact that Fairless heads coach Don Wilson has no doubt pointed out to his team a thousand times this week.

After falling behind 34-21 at halftime, CVCA outscored Manchester 21-0 in the third quarter to go ahead 42-34. Then the Panthers answered that with a 21-0 blanking of their own in the fourth quarter to win one of the most thrilling high school football games you’ll ever see. The teams traded roundhouse punches like heavyweight fighters until the Panthers, who looked gassed and down for the count entering the final quarter because most of their guys play both offense and defense, somehow caught their breath and got their feet back underneath themselves again to rally for the victory that gave their coach the state record.

As the Panthers were clinging by a thread in the second half, Jim Miller, the longtime Manchester statistician, said, "We need some France magic."

That’s exactly what the Panthers got.

It’s a scenario that’s played out in that stadium any number of times over the years, when the Panthers were able to beat a talent opponent on little more than grit, perseverance, their decades-long winning tradition and a 70-something year-old coach who always seems to have a trump card in his back pocket. They refuse to lose, especially at home, where they once won 50 straight games.

Then it was time for Nancy France to join the celebration.

"I guess I’ll have to go down there and call some more plays," she said.

Considering she’s the one person who isn’t afraid to tell her husband what he needs to hear and not necessarily what he always wants to hear, and the fact that as the old adage goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman," I think – I think – she was kidding.