Fifteen years is a long time to stay with one high school program as an assistant coach, but leaving Free State never really crossed Jordan Rose’s mind.
Now that her mentor for all those years, former Firebirds head coach Steve Heffernan, has moved on, Rose has an opportunity to take on an even bigger role with the FSHS track team she fell in love with a long time ago. Rose will become the program’s new head coach, just the second in Free State history, pending school board approval.
“It was just kind of a chance,” she said of moving up a rung on the coaching ladder. “It wasn’t something that I had coveted.”
Rose, who assisted Heffernan with cross country and track since she joined the FSHS athletics department as an undergrad at Kansas University, stuck around in part because she enjoyed her predecessor’s philosophy. Rose said she will try to continue his team-focus approach while adding her own personal style to the program.
For her, the greatest marker of success for Free State track always has been the communication between the head coach, the athletes and the assistant coaches. Once she takes over, Rose expects an immediate test in that area, specifically when it comes to Free State’s girls, the defending Class 6A state champions.
“Any time that you win a championship, it kind of changes the dynamic of the team,” Rose said.
If how the athletes communicate with each other alters little or drastically, there definitely will be a different perception of them from their opponents. Rose plans to talk about that and other potential issues with the Firebirds at the first opportunity.
Still, Rose is excited to have almost every member of the 6A champs coming back next spring. Among numerous state medalists, FSHS boasts defending individual champions in Alexa Harmon-Thomas (100-meter hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump) and Bailey Sullivan (1,600).
“It’s not as much about that we have to get first place again (in the 6A team standings),” Rose said of her approach, “but we have to continue to find success as a team.”
The boys program, Rose said, also has a strong foundation with young athletes.
A cross country runner and sprinter in her days of high school competition in Winfield, Rose began at Free State coaching sprints and relays and most recently has coached hurdlers. She plans to stick with hurdles, because it will give her time to bounce around at track meets, work with the staff’s assistants and keep track of how all the Firebirds are performing.
A chemistry instructor at FSHS since 2001, Rose deserved to become the Firebirds’ next head coach, according to athletic director Mike Hill, who noted her energy and enthusiasm along with her qualifications.
“The head-coaching position is such a a management position,” Hill said. “Her expertise in the sport as well as the fact she’s a good leader and manager … it was a natural progression and a natural choice.”