Former college All-American and NFL linebacker looks forward to building on tradition established by Jim France at Manchester.
There’s an old saying in coaching that you never want to follow a legend.
There’s too much to live up to, and no matter how good you are, it’s never good enough because the legend was better.
Instead, you want to follow the guy who followed the legend. Let the immediate successor make all the mistakes so you can learn from them and then look like a genius when you get the program back on track, even if it’s not as good as what the legend did.
No such luck for Jay Brophy. The new Manchester High School head football coach (it does not include a teaching position), pending his hiring being approved by the Manchester Board of Education as its meeting on Tuesday night, has to follow the legend, Jim France. The state’s all-time winningest coach announced his retirement two months ago after 49 years at Manchester. That’s just 10 years short of Brophy’s age of 59.
So, just how does one follow a man like France and his staggering total of 401 career wins. let alone try to replace him?
"It’s a big challenge," Brophy, who spent the last two seasons as an assistant on France’s staff, said the other day. "You don’t replace him, that’s for sure. He’s a legend. He’s the guy. He’s won more games than anyone in the history of the state. That says it all.
"To simply follow him is daunting. Coach France is one of a kind. He’s done so much here at Manchester. Everything in the program is rooted in him. His imprint is on everything. Even the stadium is named for him (Jim France Stadium).:
Brophy went on, "We’ll do some things differently — a few little changes. I think anyone who comes in as coach in any program does that. But we’re not going to change much. Why would you? This thing isn’t broken, far from it, obviously. This program has been great for a long time. It’s a well-oiled machine. We’re just coming off a season in which we went 9-4 and made it to the regional championship game (in Region 17, Division V). We want to keep that going. We don’t want to fall back a bit, just maybe try to improve on it and do even better. That’s the goal, but again, it won’t be easy."
This is the third time for Brophy as a high school head coach. The Stow resident was at St. Vincent-St. Mary from 2001-03, going 20-15 overall and, in that first year with a wide receiver named LeBron James, taking the Irish to the Division V state semifinals. He later went 5-15 at Sebring McKinley in 2009 and ’10 in Division VI (then for the state’s smallest schools).
But long before he was a head coach, or an assistant at a number of high schools in addition to Manchester, Brophy had carved out a big niche in football going all the way back to the late 1970s and through the 1980s. The Summit County Sports Hall of Famer was an All-Ohio linebacker at Buchtel High School and then went on to become a first-team All-American at Miami (Fla.), being part, along with future Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, of the Hurricanes’ first national championship team in 1984 following a stunning 31-30 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
From there, the 6-foot-3, 233-pounder went to the NFL, staying in South Florida with Miami’s other team, the Dolphins, as a second-round pick, at No. 53 overall, in the 1984 NFL Draft. The Dolphins got to the Super Bowl in his rookie season, losing 38-16 to the San Francisco 49ers, and then in 1985, after erasing an 18-point deficit to defeat the Browns in the divisional playoffs, they advanced to the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. Brophy played one more year with Miami before going to the New York Jets for his final season in 1987.
"That was a lot of fun. Those were great times," Brophy said.
And very important times in regard to what is happening now with him.
In looking for its coach, Manchester needed someone who wouldn’t melt under the pressure of following Ohio’s all-time winningest coach. Although Brophy has just five years of high school head coaching experience, his resume is highlighted by the fact of having played at the highest levels of college and pro football. So he has the nerve and toughness to handle the situation with the Panthers, including the transition into a new high school and new stadium in several years to replace the ones that opened way back in 1959 and 1957, respectively.
"I have all the respect and admiration in the world for Coach France and all the tradition he built, and I hope he comes out and visits our practices often. I just love the guy," Brophy said.
"But this is the beginning of a new era at Manchester, and we’re looking forward to it."