Greater Johnstown High School simultaneously landed a new boys basketball coach and lost a girls basketball coach on Tuesday night.
The Trojans’ athletic program also solidified its head football coaching position for another three years.
All three important developments occurred during the regularly-scheduled board of directors meeting at the district’s central office.
Rich Price was hired as head boys basketball coach and will replace Neil Cobaugh, who resigned last month.
A veteran coach, Price had successfully rejuvenated the Johnstown High girls program during his two seasons, taking the Trojans to the District 6 Class AAA title game this year. His move will leave a vacancy on the girls side.
In another board decision involving the athletic program, head football coach-athletic director Tony Penna Jr. said his contract was extended three years.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Price, who led the Johnstown girls to an 11-15 record, a District 6 Class AAA runner-up finish and appearance in the state playoffs. “It took me a lot of thought. I didn’t go into this lightly because leaving the girls was extremely difficult. I talked to many people but two of my close friends who are high school coaches – (Bishop Carroll’s) Cosie Aliquo and (Richland’s) Greg Burke – I talked to and compared notes. They really swayed me to take this opportunity. We went over pluses and minuses.
“The girls have improved much faster than I thought they would, and frankly that program is on its way up,” said Price. “I think it’s going to be very strong for the next six or seven years. I never want to leave somebody with the cup half empty. I’d rather leave it stronger in order to even be better than when I was the head coach. I think the girls program will be that next year and in years to come.”
Price takes over a program coming off a 12-11 season that included a 6-AAA semifinal appearance. Cobaugh had a 95-28 record and his teams won four consecutive District 6-AAA titles from 2010 to 2013 (overall the Trojans won five in a row including 2009 under Dave Roman Jr.).
The Trojans boys return all five starters and some key players off the bench.
“I thought the past couple coaches have done a great job of maintaining the boys program at a high level,” said Price, a 1980 graduate of Johnstown High. “I just want to build on that. The first step is I want to build a staff. We want to continue a strong junior high program and then basically build off the past and in the future we want to make a run at a state title.
“Athletically we are as good as anybody in the state. We want to get further in the state playoffs. Every year we want to make a run in the Laurel Highlands Conference, one of the toughest in the state from top to bottom. We have our work cut out for us. We also want to make a run through the state tournament.”
Price’s two sons will be members of the team. Ryan Price will be a senior returning starter at guard, and Tavis Price will be a sophomore.
Coach price led Johnstown’s girls to a 17-32 mark in two seasons. Overall as a girls head coach, he has a 103-68 record including five years at Windber. Price also spent two seasons as a volunteer assistant with the Ferndale girls and five years coaching boys AAU teams.
“We were very fortunate to have some strong candidates,” Penna said of the boys hoops position. “It was a tough decision for all those involved. At the end of the day, coach Price emerged as the best candidate. We’re looking forward to see what he can do with the boys program. He did an outstanding job with the girls program and we expect the same with the boys program.
“His experience, his familiarity with the kids and the overall calmness he has in tense situations are pluses,” Penna added. “I’ve coached with him in football and I’ve watched him in basketball in those critical situations. You have to be able to sit in there in those crucial situations with the blackboard and draw something up to get your team back in the game. He’s handled himself in those situations too.”
Penna said the girls position will be posted and a search will begin.
“We’re looking for a new girls coach,” Penna said. “Rich left the program in pretty good shape, with all five starters and two bench players returning. There’s a good, young class of ninth graders coming up too. It’s a good situation and we’re actively searching for candidates for that job.”
As for his extension as football coach, Penna appreciated the support after Johnstown’s following a long, successful stretch with an uncharacteristic two sub-.500 seasons.
“I’m flattered,” said Penna, who has a 25-19 record in four seasons, including a 19-4 mark during his first two years. “The pride and rich tradition of this program has been stated again and again. To be part of this a lot of times can be overwhelming. We have to live up to that tradition. The last two years haven’t been good.
“I understand where I coach and the expectations. We embrace that. it’s time to get the program back to where we need to be and I’m going to work tirelessly to accomplish that goal.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.