Katlan French may be one of the state’s youngest high school coaches in Class 6A at 30, but he’s mature well beyond his age in football years.
The new Biloxi coach has been on a sideline each season since he was a 5-year-old serving as a manager for his dad at Forest High School.
His father is Jack French, who has 40 years of experience as a high school coach and is the member of two different Halls of Fame — the Mississippi Association of Coaches and one in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Katlan French addressed his team for the first time Wednesday afternoon as the new Biloxi coach. As the third man to hold the job in the last four years, he hopes to bring continuity to a program that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2012.
The team that he inherits for the 2018 season has only known Hall of Famer Bobby Hall as head coach for the last three seasons. Hall stepped down last month following a disagreement with the school district over his contract, giving Katlan French the opportunity to be elevated from defensive coordinator.
Katlan French understands the challenge that comes with a coaching change for high school kids, but that’s something he never had to experience as a teenager.
“Everywhere I went, my coach went with me,” he said.
Jack French came out of retirement in November to take over the football program at Faith Academy in Mobile. Even with a career record of 258-114-2 and four state championships, the elder French still has the desire to coach.
When Katlan French was awarded the head coaching job at Biloxi, he first called his wife, Kolbi, and then he gave his dad a ring.
“I’m very glad for him,” Jack French said. “He’s paid his dues already. He’s not very old, but he’s been around football for a long time. It hasn’t come easy for him. He’s hung in there, done what he had to do. I’m proud for him.”
Father and son both had a very early start as head coaches.
Katlan was 24 and fresh off a stint on the football staff at Delta State when he became the head coach at Kirk Academy in Grenada. He started the season with 19 players and four got hurt on the way to a 3-8 campaign.
“When I took the Kirk job, I was still in college mode,” the former Delta State cornerback said. “I knew nothing about coaching high school football. It was a very difficult transition to make as far as getting out in the community, communication with parents.
“I’ve really learned a lot since then. Every step I’ve taken in my career has made me a better coach.”
Jack French’s first job as a head coach came right out of college and at a school that no longer exists — DeSoto County Academy.
“They didn’t know how to hire a coach and I didn’t know how to be hired,” he quipped. “They had never hired a coach and I was their guinea pig.”
Jack French also had a three-win season in his first year as a head coach before landing a job on the staff of Leslie Pool at Olive Branch, where he learned all he needed to know about what it took to be a successful head coach. He later won three state championships during at 14-year run at Forest.
Katlan French learned how to be a coach on the highest level of high school football in Mississippi while working under Hall at both Biloxi and Madison Central, but it all for him started while tagging along with his dad as a child.
Being a coach’s son instilled a love for the game at an early age.
“At times, it was tough,” he said. “My dad was very loving, but he showed a lot of tough love as well. I loved being a coach’s kid. I was a manager at the age of 5 and I’ve been on a sideline every year since in some sort of capacity.
“It was great watching him, as I grew up, winning games, winning championships and being a role model for kids. People loved him, supported him. I model as much of my character and passion for the game after him as I can.”
New school, old school
Katlan French said the main similarities between he and his dad are a strong work ethic and the knack for relaying stories to the players.
“At other times, I see we are totally different,” he said. “He gets loud and I’m more lower key. He’s extremely old school and I’m a little newer.”
Jack French acknowledges that he and his son have different approaches to the game.
“He has seen and experienced and used a lot of systems that I kind of already know are not for me,” the 65-year-old coach said. “I’m more set in my ways than he is. I think we’re both sort of fundamental, but I think he probably does a better job of relating to kids than I ever did. I might be better at it now. He’s always done a good job with it, but I haven’t.”
While Jack French says he “backed into coaching,” he noticed that his son seemed suited for the role at a young age.
“I didn’t want to encourage him to be one, but I can’t remember any time that he wasn’t headed that way,” he said. “He’s always had a natural instinct for it. I had to really work for hours to get a film broke down, but he could just see things so fast, even when he was a teenager. He’s the same way just sitting there watching college, pro games. I just sit back and relax. He’s always analytical.”
Both men believe that they’re exactly where they should be at this point in their careers and it just happens to be at two schools located less than 60 miles apart.
“I love high school and I love the teaching part of it,” Katlan French said. “That high school atmosphere on Friday nights, you forget what it’s like until you get back in it. At the end of the day, I want to make sure I’m here a very long time.”