Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Before building Denton Ryan's dynasty, Joey Florence considered quitting; he is now one win from 200
DENTON — Joey Florence wanted to build a winner at Denton Ryan, but after less than a week on campus in February of 2000, his plans were crumbling. He struggled to hire a staff and sank deep into thoughts of “What did I get myself into?”
And then his dad, former Rockwall coach Mickey Florence, told him he had two months to live.
“I told the principal, I’m not sure I can do this. My dad’s sick,” Florence remembers. “She said, ‘Joey we tried to give this job away. You cannot do this.’”
Florence decided not to quit. And nearly 14 years later, Florence has led Ryan to two Class 4A state championships, five title games and 146 wins. Combined with his 53 victories at 2A Cooper, Florence has an overall record of 199-50 and can get career win No. 200 Friday when Ryan (4-0) opens District 5-5A play against Flower Mound Marcus (1-4).
“I think it means I’m old,” Florence said.
Not very old for 200 wins. Florence, 47, is a step from the milestone because his Ryan teams have averaged more than 11 wins per season. That’s an impressive figure for any program, but an astounding one at a school that won a combined six games from 1997 to 1999.
Ellen Fuller, the Ryan principal during the coaching search, wasn’t kidding about trying to give the job away. Florence was the sixth choice for the job, and he wasn’t surprised by that.
“I remember it to this day. My dad said, ‘Son, you’re not good enough to go get a job at Corsicana or Highland Park,” Florence said. “You’re going to have to take a chance on a place like Denton Ryan.”
Mickey Florence, who lived 10 months after his cancer diagnosis, got to see the start of a powerhouse. His son took Ryan, which had finished 1-9 in 1999, to the 4A Division I title game in 2000. Ryan won 4A titles in 2001 and 2002 and was the 4A state runner-up in 2003.
“I don’t know if I did a lot to inspire them, but we had a lot of talent,” Florence said. “We got rolling pretty quick.”
Ryan has been on a roll since. Former Ryan defensive end Jarvis Moss, who was on Ryan’s two championship teams before playing for Florida and then spending five seasons in the NFL, was back on campus last week and looking at the football trophies.
He said “Coach Flo” is a big reason the trophy case looks like it should be on a university campus.
“He’s the total package,” Moss said. “He’s a player’s coach, and he definitely knows the game. It’s a family atmosphere.”
“Coach Flo” was the sixth choice, but he turned out to be a perfect choice for Ryan, which returned to the 4A Division I title game in 2010.
“It wouldn’t have worked with a coach who came in and ruled with an iron fist,” said Derek Lokey, a defensive tackle for Ryan in 2002-03 who later played for Texas. “All of the players really felt cared for, and that really contributed to our success.”
Florence and his wife of 25 years, DeeDee, have two daughters, Hannah (14) and Haley (13). He said he could coach another 20 years, especially if the players are similar to the likable bunch he has now.
But Florence hasn’t made long-term plans since DeeDee was diagnosed with ovarian cancer six years ago. She’s doing well now, but the health scare has made them focus on the present.
“I hate to say I’m just living life each day, because a lot of people say that,” Florence said. “I’m not sure I’m doing that, but I can sure tell you that we’re not making a lot of plans past next week.”
Whatever plans Florence does make, high school football will probably be a part of it.
“I’m not tired of coaching,” he said. “I think I have the best job in the country. I’m not saying there isn’t better football in other places, but I feel love coming to work here every day.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon
The 200-Win Club
With 200 wins, Joey Florence would join an elite group of Dallas-Fort Worth coaches.
Randy Allen: Highland Park; 318-79-6
Jim Skinner: Birdville; 240-117-6
Steve Lineweaver: Euless Trinity; 239-40-2
Weldon Nelms: Weatherford; 237-116-3
Tim Buchanan: Aledo; 216-53-3
Reginald Samples: Skyline; 209-69-2
Dale Keeling: Everman; 201-124-3
Source: Dave Campbell’s Texas Football
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter @mattwixon.