JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Corky Rogers, an iconic figure in the high school football landscape for parts of six decades and one of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport, died on Wednesday night.
Rogers, who had battled health problems for years, was 76.
He wasn’t just a coach. Rogers was the coach.
No one in the state won more games. No one in Florida has more state football championships. No one was considered a better coach than Rogers. In an Orlando Sentinel poll in 2015, it was Rogers who was voted as the best to ever walk the sideline in the Sunshine State.
That’s right. Not Steve Spurrier. Not Jimmy Johnson. Not Bobby Bowden or Urban Meyer. Rogers beat out legendary Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula for the honor. That’s how much of an impact Rogers — just a high school football coach as he used to say — made in his life.
No one’s name in Florida high school sports stands out quite like his: Corky.
Rogers returned to his alma mater at Lee in 1972 and built the Generals into a public school power. He traded in his blue and white colors of the Generals’ Backyard for the navy Izod sweater of Bolles in 1989. There, he turned the Bulldogs into the gold standard in the state.
The Bolles School issued a statement Thursday morning:
Rogers is survived by his wife of 51 years, Linda, two daughters, Tracy and Jennifer, and six grandchildren, Sennett, Shelby, Sidney, Mason, Price and May.
Rogers’ impact has spanned generations.
Rogers got his start in coaching at Ribault in 1969 when he was 25. Originally the offensive coordinator, the Trojans were so bad that season that Rogers was demoted to coaching the secondary. His first season as an assistant, Ribault went 0-10.
Three years later, Rogers landed at Lee and the coaching icon was on his way, dominating and winning football games better than anyone else for five more decades.
Even off the sideline, Rogers was a sounding board for coaches, both at Bolles and beyond. Former players were never too far from Rogers, be it by phone call or an occasional visit to the weightroom. Many players, now in their 30s, 40s and 50s, still use things that Rogers taught them and recall how brutal practices and tough love helped them outside of sports.
If his 2017 retirement felt like one of the most somber days in recent memory, Rogers’ death leaves a gigantic hole on the First Coast that goes beyond just sports. It’s not a stretch to say that Rogers ranks among the most revered figures — entertainers, politicians and business-types included — on the First Coast.
Rogers’ longevity and success may be what many people bring up about first about him — his first year coaching was 1972 and he went on to win a staggering 465 games — but it was his philosophy that endeared him to players and coaches alike.
It was beautiful in its simplicity, basic to its core.
You control your attitude. You control your effort.
He took that mantra from his first head coaching job at Lee in 1972 and kept it going until his final game in 2016, perfecting the Wing-T offense along the way and carving out his own wing of the high school record book.
Rogers was 465-84-1 and won a state-record 10 championships, all with Bolles. His career victories rank seventh in high school football history. Even though Rogers’ health had caused him more and more issues in the time since his retirement, he was still a fixture on the Bolles sideline in the seasons after he stepped down.
Bolles dedicated the Corky Rogers Plaza during Week 1 of the 2019 season. (Press play below to watch Rogers speak at the dedication.) And Rogers was in his customary spot on the sideline during the Bulldogs’ 20-14 win over Cocoa in the state semifinals last November, smiling and talking with former players and coaches.
Rogers’ resilience was part of his legacy.
He was hit by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run in 1988 and the injuries were severe, especially to his left leg, which was broken in 11 places. Rogers said in a 2015 interview that he endured 16 surgeries over a 72-day period to rebuild the lower half of his leg. He later had three more surgeries on it.
While Rogers would contract Hepatitis C as the result of a blood transfusion during one of those surgeries, he said that accident made him a better coach.
During a pre-op visit for shoulder replacement surgery in 2012, Rogers was found to have blockages in seven arteries. Doctors scrapped the shoulder repair and Rogers underwent septuple bypass surgery that January. That came just a month after Rogers’ 10th and final state championship, a 33-25 win over highly ranked Miami Booker T. Washington. He slowly regained his strength and returned to the Bulldogs that summer.
Bolles, after all, was always family.
Rogers’ coaching staff ran deep, every man on it essentially becoming extended family. They coached games shoulder to shoulder on Friday nights and then nightcapped with stories and conversation that lasted into Saturday mornings. The bulk of that staff was with Rogers his entire time at Bolles. Wayne Belger, who played for Rogers at Lee, also coached with him there, too. He replaced Rogers as Bolles’ head coach in 2017 and ’18.
Rogers left Lee for Bolles in 1989, embarking on a relentless pursuit of success that helped turn the Bulldogs from a decent football program into the best in the state.
Rogers won his first state title in his second season, his second in 1993 and third in ’95.
The Bulldogs were the No. 1-ranked program in the country by USA Today in 1996, a team considered by many to be the most dominant local team of all-time. Bolles lost three starters in the first half of that championship game due to injury and suffered a 14-13 loss to Bartow.
Rogers coached hundreds of players who went on to play in college and nine who went on to be drafted in the NFL. Tight end Hayden Hurst was the only first-round draft pick in football that Rogers coached at Bolles. He was the 25th overall pick in 2018 by the Ravens.
Former Lee High star LeRoy Butler was the highest-drafted player Rogers coached from the Generals, going to the Packers in the second round in 1990. Butler was a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist this year.
Rogers, a proponent of the multi-sport philosophy, actually coached two first-round picks — in baseball. Former Bolles receiver Chipper Jones was the No. 1 overall pick in 1990. And DJ Stewart, a Swiss-army-knife-of-a player, was a first-round pick out of Florida State in 2015.
Jones posted a tweet Thursday about Rogers’ impact on his life:
To one of the most impactful coaches of my life:— Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) February 27, 2020
I only got one yr with you, but I’m grateful for every second. U taught me that repetition, discipline and attention to detail...is what wins! Ur reputation and record speak for themselves. RIP Bolles football coach, Corky Rogers! pic.twitter.com/zj3Npi01Ug