New coach will be the first at the school since the 1980s.

It’s one down and one to go for Manchester High School when it comes to naming new head coaches.


But the one remaining is huge.


With the hiring of longtime assistant boys basketball coach Anthony J. “A.J” Hite as girls basketball coach at its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Education can now turn its full attention to finding a football coach.


Jim France, the state’s all-time winningest football coach, announced his retirement on March 14, ending a career of 49 years, the last 48 of which were spent at Manchester.


France guided the Panthers to the state playoffs last fall, their fourth straight postseason appearance and 25th overall with him as the coach. He said he will continue for one more school year to serve as high school principal, a job he has held for 36 years.


“We have 25 applicants for the job, all from outside the district,” Manchester Schools Superintendent James Robinson said. “It’s obviously a very important job. We want to get it filled as quickly as possible so the new coach has plenty of time to set up his summer program. But I don’t have a specific target date right now as to when it will happen. We’ll just keep working on it.”


Because it’s for a program that has been one of the best in the state for nearly a half-century, this hire is key for Manchester. It’s the first time the district has had to hire a new football coach since 1984, when France stepped down to concentrate on his new job as high school principal. It didn’t go well, though, as the new coach really struggled in 1985, going 2-8, after which France was asked to return, and did, in 1986, staying ever since.


“That was a rough season. I know. I was a part of that team,” Robinson said.


Robinson has been in the district since 1972 and served as an assistant football coach, mostly as defensive coordinator, for 40 years. He’s very invested in the program. As such, this hire is extra-important to him. It’s personal. He is laser-focused on getting it right.


“I was part of eight 10-0 seasons,” Robinson said. “I had a son (J.W.) who was all-state in 1997 when we went to the (Division IV) state championship game. So I know what Manchester football means.


“At Manchester, we want to win at everything. We want to win in the school and win in the community, and we want to continue that with the coach we select. In following someone like Jim France, there will be a lot of pressure on the next guy.”