The news was abrupt and confounding. Frank Hepler, the only head football coach at West Forsyth since the school opened in 2007, had resigned Monday, informing players at a 3:15 p.m., meeting.
The tweets soon after were swift and poignant.
"Coach Hepler is definitely the greatest coach and one of the greatest men I’ve ever been around. He will be missed," said junior offensive lineman Mich Toure.
"Coach Hep did a [heck] of a job as our head coach and it’s hard to see him leave for the reasons he has to," junior quarterback Hampton McConnell said.
"Never thought this would happen in my 4 years," senior offensive lineman Alan Pearson tweeted.
"Coach Hep built West Forsyth football! Glad I got to spend my 4 years with the best coach in America. #HepsHouse," said senior running back Gabe Pierce.
The news was personal for West athletic director Brett Phipps too. He was a part of Hepler’s staff from 2007-09.
"Hate to lose him, I’ll tell you that," Phipps said. "It’s like losing a brother."
The circumstances for Hepler were personal too. Phipps said family was the ultimate factor in Hepler’s resignation. A Florida native, his wife’s parents, who are 91 and 94 years old, respectively, still live there. So does his daughter, who is getting married soon. Hepler’s son, Frankie, a former Wolverines player, is expected to join the football coaching staff at West Palm Beach College.
Hepler will become defensive coordinator at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., preserving his passion for coaching while improving his family’s proximity to one another.
"This was all about family," Phipps said. "Something he and Heidi and their family decided they needed to do."
Hepler’s arrival was lauded when he was hired in 2007 to begin the Wolverines program. He came with an impressive résumé of success as a head coach in Florida at Plantation High School, his alma mater, where he went 135-30 in 14 seasons.
Hepler quickly built West into arguably Forsyth’s most successful football program during his tenure. The Wolverines were 49-18 in six varsity seasons, never had a losing season and made a fourth-straight state playoff appearance this past season, tying a county record. Since West opened, the Wolverines are the only county school to win a region title (2012) or state playoff game.
Hepler had a background in defense – he once published educational videos on how to defend Wing-T offenses – but the Wolverines offense flourished under his supervision. The Wolverines broke the record for points in a single season in 2012 with 486. West has four of the top six scoring seasons in county history.
"It sets the bar awful high," Phipps said.
Hepler’s resignation underscores the transition West will endure this year. Heather Gordy was named the new principal for the next school year, and Phipps said he has already talked with Gordy about how the hiring process will unfold.
Phipps was unsure how that process might play out. Gordy and West’s administration could choose the conventional method of forming a hiring committee, posting the job and accepting résumés. Several members of West’s current staff could be candidates. Offensive coordinator Adam Clack was the architect of the Wolverines’ productive offenses the past several seasons, while special teams coach David Rooney and defensive line coach Scott Walker both have head coaching experience.
"Just a myriad of things that are going to play into what we do," Phipps said. "I don’t want to say one way or the other that we’re going to promote or that we’re going to post it or that we’re going to put a committee together. I just don’t know."
The news is still so fresh. All Phipps knew for sure was West will miss Hepler.
"Clearly the way we started the program is reflective of we opened it the right way and did it the correct way," Phipps said. "It’s going to take years and years before you don’t see his imprint on the program in some way or the other."