While still trying to recover from the Elton John/Dolly Parton (Imagine a world without them mangling classic songs) debacle on the recent CMA awards:

Although his resignation hadn’t been submitted as of mid-November, Fayetteville coach Frank Spangler Jr. says he’s “pretty sure” he’s not coming back as head football coach for the 2006 season. He made the announcement following the Pirates’ wild, season-ending 40-39 victory over Matewan. Being the skeptic I am, I’ll believe he’s not coming back when I see his name signed on the dotted line of a resignation letter.

In 28 seasons at FHS, Spangler coached his teams to 12 playoff appearances and a 191-117 record, including the 1992 state title and small schools runner-up finishes in 1984 and 1999.

Spangler is one of the coaches most writers enjoy covering. Win or lose, he was always good for a colorful quote or a good story. Very seldom, if any, did I fail to get cooperation from him. During a couple of recent losses, however, I simply had to run a little faster to catch him before he left the playing field.

“It’s time they get some new energy to take ahold of that program,” the 63-year-old Spangler said in a recent conversation.

In Spangler’s first year, 1978, the Pirates went 3-7, but he and longtime assistant Willie Marshall got things turned around and started posting winning records more often than not. “It’s been a good ride,” said Spangler, who also praised assistants such as Dave Moneypenny and Stanley Boyd, as well as the boosters’ club, the FHS administration, the community and the local board of education. “Even when we were 5-5 or 4-6 or 3-7, I still enjoyed being here.

“We’ve had some good kids come through the program. Not a one of ‘em’s been bad.”

Spangler was bad in the early going, he said.

“When I first started, I was a crazy person,” he admitted. “I would cuss and carry on, throw stuff. ... But over the years I changed. When I got saved (1993), I really changed.”

While Spangler said the 1992 championship team was obviously one of his highlights, he was just as happy with the 1997 squad that stumbled out of the gates but eventually posted surprising wins over Mullens, Vinson and Ceredo-Kenova to finish at 5-5.

“We started 0-5, then inserted 7-8 freshmen and went 5-0 the second half of the season,” he recalled. “That was one of the biggest thrills I had in coaching. It was a joy to watch those kids grow and learn.”

About the championship squad, which defeated Matewan in the finals at Laidley Field on a cold December night, Spangler said, “That team had a lot of potential, and we had a lot of luck that year, too.”

After an early loss, “they were mad at each other, but we got back on track. Each practice was like a war.”

Spangler joins some special company when you talk about him and his coaching peers in the county. Meadow Bridge coach Larry McClintic — the longest-serving head coach in the state — has compiled a 210-169 mark in 37 seasons. Under the tutelage of McClintic and able assistant Levi Jennings, the Wildcats have posted 21 winning seasons, including capturing the 1988 Class A state championship.

Other successful coaching veterans with a Fayette County background include Mount Hope’s Eddie Souk Jr., who has led the Mustangs to a 118-95 showing in 20 seasons, which includes the 1989 state championship among seven postseason appearances, and Valley’s Benny Hopkins, whose teams are 144-142 in 28 campaigns and have appeared in the postseason six times.

Midland Trail coach Joe Dean, believe it or not, recently completed his ninth year as head coach of the Patriots. Dean, a longtime assistant at Fayetteville and Midland Trail before taking over for Jim Martin in Hico, is the newest of the old guard. His teams have posted a 51-43 record, including three playoff appearances. Dean’s 2005 Patriots were the lone county squad to advance to the playoffs in the past two seasons.

Spangler says he’d like to possibly return as an assistant at FHS (for the sake of the new coach and his command of the program, that may be a little iffy). He also doesn’t rule out the possibility of taking a head coaching post somewhere else. Dean and Moneypenny, a current FHS assistant, are among those who have been mentioned as a possible replacement for Spangler.

Another big coaching departure — this one on the basketball scene — will be felt more immediately than Spangler’s.

Earlier this fall, longtime Ansted Middle School boys coach Eddie Linkenhoker stepped down. The classy Linkenhoker had been the Trailblazers’ boss for 23 years, and — without a lot of fuss — crafted a successful program that featured solid squads practically every year.

Fellow coach Bo Morrison echoes the sentiments of many of Linkenhoker’s peers. “He’s a good guy and a good coach; I’m going to miss him,” the Mount Hope mentor said recently.

In the time since the county divided middle schools into two classifications in 1986, Linkenhoker’s Blazers won nine Class A titles, including 2004-05.

The loss of stand-up guys like Linkenhoker, as well as former Fayetteville Middle football coach John Arritt and ex-Collins Middle football coach Cy Holly — both whom gave up their posts a couple of years back — take quality veterans with a lot of valuable experience from the sidelines, leaving it to a new generation of coaches to pick up the slack.

With the graying of the teaching and coaching population in general, that’s going to become a more common occurrence in the next decade. I hope there are enough willing bodies to take up the slack.

Will somebody shut up the Bengals’ Chad Johnson? PLEASE!!!

— E-mail: skeenan@fayettetribune.com

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