A former longtime Tampa Bay area football coach has been hired to lead the Freedom High Patriots program in 2016.
Floyd Graham, a former head coach at both Steinbrenner High (2009-2011) and Newsome High (2004-2005), was named as the Patriots’ new head football coach on April 1.
He replaces Todd Donohoe, who was fired after compiling a 15-25 combined record in four seasons. The team finished the 2015 season with a 3-7 record.
Graham most recently was a defensive line coach at Carroll High School in Ozark, Alabama. He stepped down at Steinbrenner in 2012 to help take care of his cancer-stricken mother in Alabama, who passed away in January.
“Tampa’s basically my second home, because I was there for so many years. My wife and I were real happy when we were at Steinbrenner,” Graham said.
“It was always in our mind to come back.”
With many new head coaching hires made in January or February, Graham will have to make a quick turnaround to implement his program and coaching philosophy.
While it may be a disadvantage to start the job in the spring, it doesn’t compare to what Graham was forced to do at both Newsome and Steinbrenner high schools, where he built the football teams from scratch.
“To me, it’s already a luxury that we’ve already got all of our helmets, we’ve already got all of our equipment, we’ve already got coaches on staff and the kids have already been lifting,” Graham said. “I’ve been in situations where we’ve been so disadvantaged or were already fighting uphill that right now, this is something that’s going to be different and less challenging.”
“It’s going to be exciting to go into an already established program with athletes that have been doing something for awhile and have been together for awhile,” he added. “It’s not one of these things where we’re trying to build an identity, so I’m real excited about that.”
Graham’s first day on the job will be April 18, where his first duties will include keeping the current assistant coaching staff together and overseeing offseason workouts for Patriots players. He also plans to bring one of his former assistants at Steinbrenner, Cedric Roberts, in to coach defensive backs.
Graham has leafed through the roster and watched some game film on last year’s squad. He’s already noticed one team quality that gives him confidence in the team’s outlook for success.
That quality is speed, Graham said, with a tinge of glee in his voice. “They have a tremendous amount of potential. The athletes are there. The kids are there. It’s just that we have to start them at a young age and keep them on the right track. As long as they buy in and believe in us in what we’re trying to do, it will happen.”
As Graham tries to boost Freedom’s record in the win-loss column, he will have to make sure he can keep his player’s academically eligible.
“We’re going to put academics first, because the bottom line is my job is to try to create better men, which will create better fathers and husbands,” he said.
“That’s what I try to do, and we’re going to take every step that we can to make it happen.”
Perhaps what excites Graham the most is the opportunity to transition a downtrodden team into a superior one.
“The process is fun,” he said. “You can win all kinds of games, and you can lose all kinds of games. But, the process of making something from nothing and making those kids — that come in as ninth-graders — where they leave playing and understanding the game and being a better man, that’s what’s fun.”
Published April 13, 2016