Fultondale’s new football manager Keon Handley wants the team to be accountable

Fultondale searched the county for his new head football coach, hiring Pleasant Grove co-offensive coordinator Keon Handley to take the reins for the Wildcats.

Handley’s first official date is March 1, he said, but there’s work to be done before then.

“Actually, I’m on my way here right now,” he told AL.com on Monday afternoon. “I was going to start training this afternoon but I will meet them again and talk to the kids a bit more. We’ll start in the weight room tomorrow.”

Handley was hired on January 26 to take over a team that was winless last season and had been 1-18 under Kendric Cook for the last two years.

The Wildcats’ 14th head coach said the new Fultondale school – expected to open this year – and athletic facilities being built after a tornado in 2021 are a selling point for his interest in the job. The artificial turf soccer field, changing room and weight room are ready for use, he said.

“The new facilities were definitely a reason I wanted this job,” he said. “This is a great community, a community that wants growth and change. I’m just being honest, but you look back a few years at how things in Alabaster (for Thompson High School) started and how they grew to where they are now. Fultondale has the same potential.”

The Wildcats have struggled as a Class 4A team for three seasons after some strong campaigns as a 2A and 3A school. Fultondale was 1-9 in its first year as a 4A team under Don Dover, but 17-5 in its first two seasons in Class 3A. Richie Busby was 40-17 in five years, the last four in Class 3A after one in 2A.

“People will be surprised,” Handley said. “As I walked into the room, my eyes widened and I was kind of amazed at the talent there. My thought was, ‘I can win here. If I put together the right staff, I can definitely win here.’”

The manager said he and his yet-to-be-hired Fultondale staff want to form a team that is responsible for themselves and their team-mates.

“I’m trying to put the pieces together for a staff,” Handley said. “Our employees bring out the best in the children every day. They will be boys who will be like fathers and big brothers to the children and hold them accountable. My motto is: “Responsibility is 90 percent of the fight”. If I’m accountable for my actions, I’ve won 90 percent of the battle. The other 10 percent come from coaching.

“Accountability is key to their success. That’s one thing these coaches can do is hold them accountable and keep their feet on the fire.”

Handley said he hopes to have 55 to 60 players on the varsity roster, which would be about 15 more than would be attracted for the Wildcats in 2022.

“I’ve heard from some kids who aren’t on the team and some came to our meeting and we’ll work out those details,” he said. “We will continue to push to get them used to our program and our expectations.

“I know how to build relationships. I will love my players and hold them accountable. I’ll be the father they need, the uncle they need. From the personality of the coaches that we will have, they will be attracted to me.

“Culture over strategy wins ball games,” Handley said. “Our culture will infect the whole school. When Rueben Nelson was with Ramsay, the culture he built with “Papa Jack” (former assistant to Nelson and current head coach Ronnie Jackson) when he was the girls’ basketball coach became contagious to the other sports. They shared athletes, so basketball for boys and girls became a real competition. They strived for excellence in everything they did.”

Handley has a 23-40 record in six years as head coach, his freshman year in 2016 at Selma where he was 1-9. The Miles College graduate, who has a master’s degree from Jacksonville State, trained at his alma mater, Fairfield, from 2017-21. He took the Tigers to the playoffs the last two seasons and was 7-4 in 2021.

Handley’s son, a 3-star recruit at quarterback, will remain at Pleasant Grove and plans to graduate in December.

“I really want to thank Coach (Darrell) LeBeaux for allowing me to be on his staff at Pleasant Grove,” Handley said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to hire another head coach (as an assistant) and he took a chance with me. I really enjoyed the time with him. He’s the next big thing in our area.”

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