Coach Joe Prince is quick to share the glory, however. He explained that this year’s team had 21 players with a 3.5 GPA or better. “When you have smart kids and kids that work hard and buy into the program and what you’re trying to teach . . . I think that’s what made a big difference and why we did have so much success,” said Coach Prince, whose 2013 team finished 10-4 overall and 3-0 in the district.
“I’ve won awards before—awards like this are more team-oriented. [They’re about] the people helping you make a big difference,” he said. The overall impact of such awards comes as positive reinforcement to the football program and to the players. “It’s a pride thing for the OHS family, for the community.”
Coach Prince tells his players not to worry about individual awards. Focus on the team and “the other stuff will take care of itself,” he said. Aside from the 15 seniors’ athletic careers, Coach Prince will measure their success based on what happens in the years to come. “I think they will go on to become the leaders of our community. That’s what I’m hoping for. I think they will come back and give to the community.” That pairs perfectly with his two focal points: Commitment and Loyalty.
Coach Prince realized, 19 hours shy of graduating with a degree in accounting, that he was destined to coach, not sit behind a desk. “My high school coaches had been so good to me . . . that’s basically what I felt like my calling was,” he said. “I got a job here at Owensboro, and was fortunate enough to coach under Coach Gerald Poynter, who should be in the Hall of Fame, and I learned a lot.” That may be an understatement. His Mayfield High School coach (Jack Morris) and University of Kentucky coach (Jerry Claiborne) are both in the National Football Hall of Fame, respectively. “I feel like I’ve been tutored by the best,” said Coach Prince, a high school All-American.
Regardless, he chooses to be his own man. “I don’t believe you can be somebody else. I try to make sure all my decisions are sound and fair. I rely on my past experiences,” he said. One of those experiences includes Coach Claiborne’s philosophy: “Do right. Do your best. Winning will take care of itself.” Coach Prince has maintained that approach, but added a third step: Have fun.
From the numerous stories shared, the relationships established over the years mean the most. “There have been a lot of fun wins; don’t get me wrong. I live through our kids. On Friday night, I still get juiced up and excited, but the things that mean the most are watching our kids mature and grow—and that’s the journey of each season,” said Coach Prince, almost nostalgic. What touches a hard-core football coach’s heart? When kids come back to him after graduation and solicit his advice about life, about relationships, about big decisions. “Those are the rewards of coaching: a call from a kid, an unexpected Christmas card, when they recall something you said or did.”
What type of preparation goes into a highly successful football program? “First of all, I surround myself with good people who are loyal—not just to me but to the kids and to the program. That’s how I prepare myself.” Next, Coach Prince expects those people to hold him accountable, not allowing him “to get fat cat or to cut corners.” Finally, he listens to his wife Jane and tries to recharge his batteries, to get away. “I get out of balance sometimes, and she brings me back to earth,” he said with a hearty laugh.
Along with the success have come a few lessons learned. Coach Prince called out three much like he’d call in a play. Number one: Kids are going to be kids. Number two: If a kid can play another sport, encourage them to do it. They need all the good role models they can get. Number three: The relationships are more important than the wins. “I can’t say I was always like that . . . everybody wants to come out and win, but kids can decipher who is just coaching for the wins and who is not.”
Through the years, he’s had the opportunity to mentor other coaches. Some of his players and assistant coaches have gone on to become head coaches, but he thinks some of the most rewarding coaching is when you are not necessarily the head man. “Being head coach is not all it’s cracked up to be all the time,” he said, pointing out that all the glory comes with the win, but all the agony with a loss or other problems.
As far as talent is concerned, Coach Prince said, “Nobody’s as good as they say they are, and nobody’s as bad as they say they are.” He readily admitted that it took years of coaching to bring him to that understanding. “You better worry about the Jims and Joes that show up. Forget about the ones that don’t show up. I’ve learned to stop worrying about the ones who don’t want to play.”
One who did show up was his son Kal, a starting quarterback / safety, who had the option to go to school wherever he wanted, but chose to have his dad as coach. “When you coach your own kid, you see every fault. Then other people say, ‘You have a great kid; ease up.’ It helped me having Jeff Reese manage Kal instead of me. Jeff could get on to him and it wouldn’t faze him. I could look at him and he’d say, ‘What?’” Kal, a junior safety at Columbia University in New York, is majoring in political science and has no intentions to coach.
Kal’s perspective on his dad’s award? “He deserves it. He works really hard. You don’t see it, but he works like 70 hours a week. Sometimes he sleeps in that (football office) chair. No exaggeration,” said Kal, with full admiration for his dad—and former coach.