Ben Baby: Florence following in father’s footsteps

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David Minton/DRC
Joey Florence coaches the Ryan Raiders during a playoff game against Cedar Hill on Dec. 9 at Apogee Stadium.

A white piece of paper taped beside the door of the head coach’s office at the Ryan fieldhouse offers instructions to find the person to contact if you need anything, because there isn’t anybody in the office at the moment.

Joey Florence had been the head coach at Ryan since before the fieldhouse was established.

After 14 successful years at Ryan, Florence was named the Denton school district’s athletic director Tuesday. For the 47-year-old Rockwall native, it’s a natural progression for someone who’s followed in his father’s footsteps his entire career.

“He just does it right,” Coppell coach Joe McBride said. “You can tell he’s been raised by a coach. He’s a coach’s kid, and you can tell his dad was a coach from the way he handles himself and the success he’s had.”

In 20 years as a head coach at Ryan and Cooper, Florence racked up two state championships, 39 playoff wins at Ryan, an overall record of 205-53 and a gameday diet consisting of Dr Pepper and a Snickers bar.

He’s told his kids to never get “too high with the highs and too low with the lows,” and he’s given referees an earful, as the white paint marking the sidelines was nothing more than a polite suggestion.

While the decision loomed over him during the last few weeks, it was hard to ignore the path his father took.

Mickey Florence has an all-purpose facility named after him in Rockwall, the town where he served as the high school’s head coach and eventually became the district athletic director.

Joey Florence said one of the things his father regretted over the years was getting out of coaching too soon. Mickey was a head coach for four years at Rockwall before becoming the district’s assistant superintendent.

There’s a letter from legendary Brownwood coach Gordon Wood framed in Florence’s office. Wood was one of the many people who knew Mickey well.

Mickey was one of the reasons Florence took the job at Ryan in 2000. Four days after Florence accepted the job, Mickey told his son he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Mickey died at age 58 in 2000, before his son led Ryan to the Class 4A Division I state final a year after the Raiders went 1-9 in 1999, and before Florence raised two state championship trophies.

But if you ask around, it’s hard to say Mickey would not be proud of what Joey has done in the last 14 years at Ryan.

The only blemish on Florence’s record is a three-year stretch where Ryan didn’t win a playoff game, something that’s lost in the slew of accolades he’s compiled over the years.

More than all of that, however, is the impact he made on Denton and the kids he’s coached.

Ryan is no longer the only school in town to win back-to-back titles, as Guyer accomplished the feat this season. Denton, under former Florence assistant Kevin Atkinson, enjoyed one of its best seasons in recent memory and seems to be trending upward.

Mickey would have been proud as Florence walked into Monday’s school board meeting in a black suit, sat with his wife, DeeDee, and listened as renderings of the school’s next high school were shown and Florence was confirmed as Ken Purcell’s successor as athletic director.

Based on his track record, it’s hard to expect anything but good things out of Florence as he starts his new venture, which begins as he sets out to find someone to fill the office filled with his belongings.

And when he finally leaves his new office on Long Road, whenever that may be, don’t be shocked if Mickey’s no longer the only one in the Florence family with a building named after him.

It’s only natural that the son continues in the father’s footsteps.

BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.


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