Fourteen years ago, Joey Florence was hired to turn around Ryan’s struggling football team, and he built one of the state’s most respected programs.
Florence traded in his coaching polo and khakis for a black suit Tuesday night as the Denton school board approved Florence as the district’s new athletic director.
The 47-year-old takes the position following 20 years as a head football coach, including the last 14 years at Ryan. Florence said he’s excited to contribute to the district and the community.
“They’ve been so good to me and my family, and it just gives us an opportunity to give back to the whole district and the whole community,” Florence said. “I am looking forward to that, but at the same time, I’ve been coaching for 25 years. To say it’s not difficult to walk away from coaching, I wouldn’t be honest.”
The Rockwall native takes over for Ken Purcell, who retired as district athletic director at the end of 2013 after holding the position for 16 years.
Florence was the head coach at Cooper for six years before he was hired as Ryan’s head coach in February 2000. Florence led the Raiders to the Class 4A Division I state title in 2001 and the 4A Division II championship in 2002.
He joined an elite category in 2013 when the Raiders defeated Flower Mound Marcus for Florence’s 200th career victory. He capped his 20 years as a head coach with a record of 205-53, two state championships and five state final appearances.
When Florence took over the program, the Raiders were coming off a 1-9 season in 1999. In Florence’s inaugural year, the Raiders reached 4A Division I title game in 2000 and lost to Bay City. It marked a stretch of four straight championship game appearances.
In 14 seasons under Florence, Ryan never missed the playoffs.
At Ryan, Florence went 152-37, including a 39-12 playoff record. During Florence’s tenure as head coach, 33 players have received scholarships to play at Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including two NFL draft picks.
Coppell head coach Joe McBride described Florence as professional, very straight-forward and highly respected among his peers for his accomplishments.
“He’s done one of the most unbelievable jobs of turning a program into a juggernaut,” McBride said. “Very few people have done what he’s done in this business. He’s as good as there is in the coaching profession.”
Ryan principal Vernon Reeves said the Ryan mainstay built the program in a classy way, and the impact of his success spilled over into the community.
“It’s been amazing from the time that coach Florence came in and built his program,” Reeves said. “It allowed our school community to pull together and have a common purpose and to set high expectations across the board for success. His program has been a key component for pushing people to be successful.”
The success Florence experienced at Ryan spilled across town to Guyer, which just finished repeating as Class 4A Division I state champion. Guyer coach John Walsh said the biggest thing Florence did for the Wildcats was set a standard of winning championships.
Walsh said he was excited for Florence to take charge of the district.
“He’s the right guy for the job,” Walsh said. “He’s been mentoring for me on the ins and outs since I got here. No one knows Denton athletics better than he does right now. He needs to be the guy.”
Florence has served on the Texas High School Coaches Association Board of Directors and has been awarded the University Interscholastic League Excellence Award.
Once Purcell announced his retirement date, Florence became the frontrunner for the position as he led his team to the Class 5A Division II regional final, matching the team’s deepest 5A playoff run.
“I was not sure that I’d do this thing,” Florence said. “I would not allow myself, during the season, to even think about it or even ponder it or so much prepare for it. I think my career has prepared me for this job, but I think I’ve been an athletic director in some form or fashion for the past 20 years.”
One of the biggest challenges Florence faces as he takes over is the planning of the district’s fourth high school, which is expected to be opened in the fall of 2016.
Florence laughed when asked about cleaning out the office he’s held for so long and moving into a new office overlooking the north end zone of C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.
It’s where he’ll transfer all the items he’s collected at Ryan.
“It’s the right time for me to leave,” Florence said. “The program’s in good shape. It’s difficult, but at the same time, every coach goes through this. But, yeah, it’ll be a little bit of a difficult situation, but I’ve done it before.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.