Even bosses and head coaches – including the best ones – have bosses and head coaches.
The includes Jim France.
That person for the longtime Manchester High School principal and head football coach was Nancy France. She was not just his wife of almost 55 years and the mother of their three grown children, but she was also his biggest cheerleader, confidante, advisor, sounding board and personal and professional compass.
And she was so well-suited – perfectly suited, really – to wear all those hats for him. Jim and Nancy France had known each other nearly their entire lives while growing up in Springfield Township and attending Springfield schools. They were sweethearts for almost all of that time – and if the truth be told, probably from the moment they met.
Indeed, wherever Jim France was, Nancy could be found not far away. They were indelibly linked.
Their storybook relationship ended Tuesday when Nancy passed away after a second bout with cancer. She was 75.
“She was the epitome of a coach’s wife,” said Dan Grenus, a longtime teacher at Manchester High School and the man who has filmed the school’s football games for Jim France for more than two decades. “She tolerated and encouraged all of his coaching obligations, and then some. She was truly a wonderful and special lady.
“Nancy was the world to ‘Koach’ France. She planned all the holidays, birthdays and vacations. And Koach was more than happy to go along with whatever Nancy planned. I remember Koach telling me many times of him leaving the house in middle of the evening to go get Nancy a milkshake that she craved, just to have her take a sip of it and be done with it. But he was more than happy to go get one the next night and the next night.
“That’s how much her happiness meant to him. Both of them had a deep dedication to each other’s happiness. You don’t find that very often these days. They were a matched pair.
“She was one in a million.”
Manchester Middle School Principal Jim Miller, the longtime statistician for the high school football team, described Mrs. France as being “Mr. France’s everything, the family glue that every family needs.”
The wife of a head coach, especially a high-profile one such as Jim France, who two years ago became the all-time wins leader in Ohio high school football, has to be tough. And Mrs. France was that. Fans have opinions, and they are not afraid to voice them. She was always there to defend her husband.
After addressing the team on the field following games, the Manchester coaches convene amongst themselves, discussing the squad’s needs and concerns and the approach for the next week’s opponent. That meeting is brief, perhaps only a couple of minutes, if that.
But Jim France’s meeting with Mrs. France and their family, particularly at home games, was a whole lot longer and much more joyful. And the leader of that session – the person around whom everybody gathered and to whom they listened, hanging on to every word spoken -- was not Jim France but rather his head coach, and boss, Nancy France.
Those post-game family meetings will be a lot different and much more difficult, at least for a while, when the regular season begins Aug. 30.
“Mr. France is a man of strong faith,” Miller said. “People lean on their faith in times like these, and I know he will lean on his as he goes forward.”
Funeral arrangements for Nancy France are pending.