One of the most successful coaches in the history of Kentucky high school football died Sunday night.
Joe Jaggers, a 1993 Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame inductee who spent 33 years as a head coach and spent much of that time coaching in Hardin County, was 81.
His grandson, Josh Jaggers, said he passed from a heart attack. He has battled dementia and Alzheimer’s the last few years as well.
Jaggers, who coached the My Old Kentucky Home, Nelson County, Trigg County, Fort Knox and North Hardin football programs, was a five-time state champion who finished with a 292-105-3 record. Three of the five state championships came during a 14-year period as the head coach at Fort Knox from the 1977 season through the 1990 season.
“It’s hard to explain how good a coach Joe Jaggers was. I always said when I was coaching with him and even after I quit coaching with him, if he was third down and we needed a play to get a first down, it just seemed like 90-something% of the time, he’d call something and it would give us what we needed,” former Fort Knox athletic director and defensive coordinator Gary Thompson said. “I think his greatest attribute was his ability to, on offense, to call plays and to call the right plays. His other asset as a coach and as a leader was he put kids in the position that was best for the team …. That’s pretty obvious from his record and what he did there at Fort Knox.”
Jaggers first began playing football at age 10 while growing up in Princeton. After graduating from Western Kentucky University following a standout career as a running back, Jaggers began his career as an assistant coach at My Old Kentucky Home in 1960. Three years later, he was named the My Old Kentucky Home head coach, where he compiled an 18-11-2 record.
He went on to Nelson County in 1969, where he posted a 12-8-1 record in two seasons before taking the job at Trigg County. Jaggers went 46-25 overall and won Class A state titles in 1971 and 1972 at Trigg.
In 1977, he arrived at Fort Knox. Thompson, who was the Fort Knox athletic director from 1974 to 2004, remembered getting Jaggers on post as the start of something special.
“Bob Burrow was our principal then. … Mr. Burrow said I think we can get Joe Jaggers. I said ‘By gosh, if you can get Joe Jaggers, we better try to get him,’ ” Thompson said. “We got him and that was the greatest thing that happened at Fort Knox for the football program, hiring Joe Jaggers as our head coach. He turned the program around.”
Jaggers led the Eagles to a 143-33 record, winning Class 2A state championships in 1983, 1988 and 1990. His 1984 team lost to Newport Central Catholic in what would ultimately be Jaggers’s only state title game loss.
“It was fun, it was great. I always said the place to be on Friday night was at Fort Knox High School when Joe Jaggers was coach over there,” said Thompson, who was a member of Jaggers’s coaching staff for the 1983 state title. “We had fans, we brought the GIs in there sometimes, we’d have 1,500 to 2,000 GIs in the stands there on Friday night. We had big crowds, it was just amazing what Fort Knox did there in the years when he was the head coach.”
In addition to the on-the-field success, the culture Jaggers built around the program at practice and outside of the games themselves was just as important to several of his Fort Knox players.
“I arrived at Fort Knox before my sophomore year in the summer of 1982. Football practice had already started so I was a late arrival to the team. As Army brats who are constantly moving around, some of us found our stability and extended family through sports. Coach Jaggers wasted no time welcoming me into the family. I could not have asked for a better environment to become a part of in regards to my teammates and the wonderful coaching staff at Fort Knox High School,” KHSAA Assistant Commissioner and former Fort Knox and University of Kentucky running back Darren Bilberry said. “…. Practice was also a time for pranks, laughter, horseplay, and male bonding all under the watchful eye of Coach Jaggers and his staff who allowed our individual personalities to shine through while developing us into the men we were meant to be .”
Jaggers left Fort Knox after the 1990 season to take the head coaching job at North Hardin starting in 1991. What followed was an eight-year run with the Trojans in which Jaggers amassed a 77-23 record with trips to the state semifinals during the 1991 and 1993 seasons.
Among the members of his coaching staff at North Hardin was James Webb, who had played for Jaggers at Fort Knox and was a member of the 1984 state runner-up Eagles team.
“As someone who had never played high school football, he gave me a chance to come out and play and I became an important piece of the defense, I was a starter and we made it to the state championship game again,” Webb said.
Their relationship evolved from one between a player and a coach to one as fellow coaches when Jaggers reached out to Webb to offer him a position on his staff with the Trojans.
“I’m in Hardin County because he called me my senior year in college and said ‘I’m leaving Fort Knox to come to North Hardin. I know you’re in education and PE and want to be a coach.’ He offered me a job while I was still in college,” Webb said. “I’m in Hardin County, retired now and it was all because of him.”
Joe Stockton, who played at North Hardin under Jaggers in the early 1990s, recalled his former high school coach as tough but fair to all of his players.
“He made me work for everything that I got. I came to North Hardin with a few little braces from when I came from Hart County and people who knew me growing up in Glasgow, but when I got to North Hardin, I had to earn everything that I achieved there on the football field,” Stockton said. “I always thought he was fair and I thought it was really important that we kept that relationship way past me playing for him and me playing sports. When my athletic career ended, we remained friends.”
Jaggers retired from coaching following the 1998 season at 58.
At the time of his retirement, Jaggers stood as Kentucky’s all-time winning high school coach. He currently ranks 12th in most wins in state football history.
Even in retirement, his legacy continued to live on in the in the careers of the players and coaches he impacted over the years.
“He pushed me. Just to watch him work, all things were football with him. To watch him dissect the game, dissect an opponent, the things he made me do that I really didn’t like and understand why I was doing it at that time, it’s like being a parent,” said Webb, who is now retired after a storied career as North Hardin’s track and field coach. “You appreciate it later. Making me break down film, making me drive halfway across the state to go scout a team. I was young, 23 or 24 years old and in my first or second year out of college and I’m driving to Henderson County and I don’t know anybody out there, but I’ve gotta go break this team down. The little meticulous things like that, that I was kind of frustrated at because I had to do it myself, made me a better coach,” Webb said. “…. Obviously that crossed over into my life in track and field. Just taking care of the little things.”
Stockton, who had a storied career in football and track at North Hardin and continued to play both sports at Western Kentucky, has also gone on to coach football and track at the high school and college level and is currently the boys’ track coach at John Hardin High School.
“His influence over me started back when I was an eighth grader at Glasgow Middle School. His Fort Knox team used to come down to Glasgow and that was a big game. Fort Knox of course would beat us and I just remember reading an article about him and I got a chance to be a ball boy for one of the games. I remember when we were shaking hands, I actually walked on the field and remember slapping hands with him. That was my first encounter with him and then about two years later, he ended up being my coach,” Stockton said.
“Just the way people talked about him, he was bigger than football,” he added. “He was one of the football gods of Kentucky high school football with all his championships…”
Through the impact he made on his former players and assistant coaches as well as his on-the-field success, Jaggers leaves behind a legacy Thompson believes few will ever challenge.
“He has to be considered one of the greatest football coaches that’s ever been in the state of Kentucky,” Thompson said. “It’s hard to put it in words how much he meant to football at Fort Knox High School.”
Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1425 or [email protected]