JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In what has been a slow offseason for high school football coaching movement, Palatka made the first hire of the new year on Wednesday.
The Panthers hired Patrick Turner from Menendez to try and help restore a program that has faded substantially since Jim McCool retired after coaching his final season in 2003.
Turner heads to Putnam County from his athletic director role at Menendez, although he has a football background.
Turner coached Menendez for five seasons from 2013-17, going 31-24 and reaching the state playoffs three times.
The Falcons won their first playoff game in his final season, beating Belleview 38-24 on the road. They lost the following week in a 37-28 shootout against Baker County. That Wildcats team later played for the Class 5A state title.
Turner coached for three seasons in North Carolina prior to his arrival at Menendez and went 14-19.
In a post on Twitter, Turner said that it was a bittersweet day.
“I have accepted the Head Coaching Job at Palatka High School. I am Excited and Equally sad to leave my Menendez family as I have spent the last 8 years here. They will be missed. Thank you Admin, teachers, coaches and players that I was able to work with! GoFalcons/ Go Panthers!”
The challenge will be steep.
McCool was Palatka’s head coach from 1983-2003 and went 159-74. The Panthers have cycled through coaches since then, with six of them making stops in Putnam County. None of them have finished their stints in Palatka with a .500 record or higher. Willie Offord (10-11) in 2012-13 and Randy Hedstrom (4-6 in 2014) have been the top coaches, recordwise, in that span.
Turner will replace Willie Fells, a Palatka alum who went 6-24 in his three seasons there.
Menendez still has a vacancy, too.
Mark Galella served in an interim role and went 4-5. He took over at the third game of the season after Kenny Sanchez was fired abruptly for his actions following a 28-3 win at Gainesville Eastside.