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Jaggers’ family business: coaching high school football since 1963

September 6, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Joe Jaggers got a victory ride from his son (and quarterback) Marty after Trigg County upset Caldwell County in 1975. (Courier-Journal photo)

BY MIKE FIELDS

You could say the Jaggers’ family business is coaching high school football. It’s a business that’s been handed down from generation to generation to generation, a business that’s always been more about relationships than results, more about passion than a paycheck.

It took root in 1963 when Joe Jaggers began his coaching career as an assistant at Franklin-Simpson, then spread to different parts of Kentucky, with Joe heading programs at Old Kentucky Home, Nelson County, Trigg County, Fort Knox and North Hardin, winning five state titles along the way, and becoming the state’s all-time winningest coach before retiring in 1998.

Joe’s sons Marty and Crad followed in his footsteps, and between them coached from 1982 to 2014.

Marty’s son Josh is the fourth branch in the family tree of coaches. He’s been at LaRue County since 2008 and is in his fifth year as boss of the Hawks.

If you’re keeping score, that means one or more of the Jaggers’ clan has been involved in coaching high school football for 56 consecutive seasons, dating back to when John F. Kennedy was in the White House.

“That’s pretty wild,” Josh said. “It’s kind of like you see generations of farmers because that’s what they do, that’s what they love.

“With our family it’s football. It becomes your niche because you grow up around it and it’s what you know. I grew up in field houses and around coaches. I guess it’s just who we are from a profession standpoint.”

Among the four of them, they’ve compiled 415 victories as head coaches, and Joe and Marty are only the third father-son duo to win state titles. (Jack and Joe Morris each have multiple titles at Mayfield. Chuck Smith has several titles at Boyle County, while his son Brandon has won one at South Warren.)

That’s not to say none of the Jaggers didn’t consider other career options.

To this day Joe Jaggers wonders if he should have taken a swing at professional golf. Coming out of Caldwell County High School, where he was a five-sport athlete, he had an offer to play golf at Florida State. Instead, he went to Western where he played golf and football. He was more accomplished on the fairways than on the gridiron.

By the time he graduated from college, he and wife Joye already had three children, and the PGA TOUR wasn’t the big money grab it is today. So Jaggers went into teaching and coaching, although golf always remained a passion for him. (In his first off-season as coach at Trigg County, he ran the pro shop at the Boots Randolph course at Lake Barkley. He also established himself as one of the top amateurs in the state in his younger days. Now 78, he’s still a rabid competitor and more than capable of shooting his age.)

Marty, Joe’s older son, played for his father at Trigg County and was an all-state quarterback. Like his dad, he went on to play football at Western. Marty thought about becoming a dentist (like his grandfather) or an optometrist. But he also had family responsibilities to consider. By the time he graduated from college his son Josh had been born. So he went into coaching, starting off as an assistant at LaRue County in 1982.

After Mercer County won the 2006 Class 2A title, Titans Coach Marty Jaggers and his son/assistant Josh walked off the field as state champs.

Marty eventually became a head coach, first in the early 1990s at Lincoln County, where he led the Patriots to a state runner-up finish in 1993, and later at Mercer County, where he led the Titans to a state championship in 2006 in the first season after the merger of Mercer County and Harrodsburg.

Between those head coaching stints, Marty served on Sam Harp’s staff at Danville, where he and his son Josh, an all-state lineman, helped the Admirals to a state runner-up finish in 1998.

Crad, Marty’s younger brother, was a three-sport star at North Hardin, and was an all-state quarterback for his dad. A walk-on for WKU football for two years, he finished up at Campbellsville where he played football and baseball.

Crad was a high school football assistant for a few years before taking over as head coach at North Hardin in 2008. He held that job for four years.

Crad tragically passed away in October, 2016, at the age of 39. His death left a hole in the heart of his family, including wife Tesa and their three children.

“He had no idea how many people loved him,” Marty said of his younger brother. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him at least two or three times.”

Joe Jaggers said he comforts himself by knowing his son “is in a better place now.”

Crad was more like a brother than uncle to Josh since they were only 4 years apart in age. “He was an exceptional influence on me,” Josh said.

Josh, who started his college career at Kentucky but wound up finishing up at Campbellsville, seemed destined to become a coach. His dad tried to talk him out of it.

“I was kind of hoping he might see what else was out there,” Marty said. “He’s smart, has a great personality and he’s a whole lot more likable than me and dad.

“But I guess coaching’s in his blood.”

Josh admitted as much: “You can’t deny what your passions are,” he said.

After all, he was steeped in football at an early age.

He can remember the bitter-cold night in 1987 when Elizabethtown, where his dad was an assistant, lost at Mayfield in the state semifinals.

He can remember the 1988 and 1990 state finals in Louisville and watching his granddad coach Fort Knox to state titles.

“Papa Joe was my Bear Bryant, and still is my Bear Bryant,” Josh said. “He was bigger than life. I still have people ask me, ‘Is Joe Jaggers your grandfather?’ I’m always proud to say he is.”

Josh has been part of a state championship team as a coach, too. He was an assistant on his dad’s staff at Mercer County when the Titans won their title in 2006. “To be able to do it with dad, that was really cool,” he said.

Marty Jaggers and his son Josh before LaRue County’s game at Thomas Nelson last week.

But the most important football lesson his grandfather and father taught him wasn’t about X’s and O’s.

“It’s how they interact with young men, even to this day,” Josh said. “They don’t just communicate. They connect. That’s what I’ve tried to emulate.

“It’s pretty special how they’ve built relationships, and that’s the best part of coaching. It’s not winning and losing. It’s having those relationships for the rest of your life.” 

Being the youngest and only current coach in the family means Josh gets lots of input from his elders. Sometimes it’s solicited; sometimes it’s not.

He talks to or texts his father every day, sometimes about football strategy, sometimes about life.

When his grandfather comes to watch LaRue County play, he is more than willing to share his opinion.

“Papa Joe watches with a very critical eye,” Josh said, chuckling.

“Here he is almost 80 years old, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if he wanted to coach again, he could do it if he surrounded himself with a good staff that could bring it on an energy level.”

Papa Joe quit coaching 20 years ago, but he’s kept his head in the game, analyzing it and appreciating it. To this day, whenever he watches football on TV, he keeps a pencil and pad handy so he can scribble notes and ideas.

“I know more now than I did when I was coaching,” he said. “But Josh won’t listen to me. He’s a little hard-headed, but we’re all a little hard-headed.”

Joe Jaggers retired from coaching when he was 58 (with a then state-record 292 victories). Marty got out of coaching when he was 50.

They were able to walk away from the sidelines and adjust to life after football because they have hobbies. Joe has golf. Marty has hunting, fishing and golf.

“They’ve instilled that in me that you need balance in your life,” Josh said. “They taught me there are other things outside of football. I love coaching, I love Friday nights, but I don’t love anything in this world more than being on our boat down at Lake Cumberland with my wife (Megan) and my little girls (Avery, 7, and Layla, 4). There’s nothing in the world that tops that.

“And you haven’t seen me and dad when turkey season comes around in April, or on the golf course in two-man scrambles.

“Really, when you peel back the layers, football’s probably a small portion of our lives.”

A small portion, maybe, but the Jaggers’ family business has had a huge impact on high school football for the last 56 autumns in Kentucky.

The Jaggers at a golf scramble in July, 2016, Left-to-right: Crad, Joe, Marty and Josh.

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