NEW FRANKLIN That Manchester High School is looking for a new head football coach is odd, as it has had to do so just once previously in the last nearly half-century.


And that one time came over 35 years ago.


It becomes only stranger still considering that Manchester is doing so at an unprecedented time in Ohio high school sports history when, with the coronavirus pandemic closing schools through at least May 1 and quite possibly longer, the only certainty is uncertainty.


“We have about 20 applicants thus far,” Manchester Schools Superintendent Dr. James Robinson said Monday, adding that none are from within the school system.


“These are definitely big shoes to fill, but we want to find not just a good football coach, someone who be able to continue the high standards that have been set here for so long with the winning tradition, but also a good educator, and a good teacher in the classroom.”


Manchester never had a losing record in 48 seasons (1971-84, 1986-2019) under France, who finished as the state’s all-time wins leader with a record of 401-129-4 (.755) in a 49-year career overall (he coached at Coventry in 1970). Manchester’s last losing season came in 1985 (2-8), the year France stepped down after he became high school principal, a job he has said he will hold for one more school year before retiring completely. He returned to coach the following year.


France, 76, guided the Panthers to 23 league championships and 25 playoff appearances, including in each of the last four seasons. The 2019 team made the biggest comeback in his tenure, using a six-game winning streak to avoid a losing season, finish 9-4 and advance all the way to the Division V, Region 17 title game before losing to eventual state champion Kirtland.


But before the Panthers really ramp up their search to find a successor to France, whose retirement became official on March 17, they expect to hire a new girls basketball coach. That opening was created when Shawn Zavodney resigned at the end of this past season, his third on the job. The Panthers struggled each year, finishing 10-14 overall and 3-9 in the Principals Athletic Conference in 2019-20.


According to Robinson, there were 10 applicants for that opening.


“We’re further ahead on the basketball job. We’re now down to five finalists,” he said while declining to reveal any names.


“We’ve got a lot of players returning and there are some really good players among them, so there’s a good group to work with.”


Robinson added, “As with the football job, there’s no definite target date to hire a basketball coach. You obviously always want to do it sooner rather than later with any coaching search, especially one in the spring as the school year is winding down, so there’s time to organize the summer leagues and camps, and conditioning.


“With what’s going on now, though, with so many questions about what’s going to happen for the rest of the school year, we can hire coaches but there won’t be a whole lot for them to do for a while.”