Spencer spoke last fall with OMS Principal Ronald Spangler about retiring as girls’ head coach at Ocoee. Spencer then decided to give the job one final year. The pair talked again at the beginning of the school year and after a weekend of talks with his family and a close friend, Spencer decided now is the perfect time to take over new opportunities at the school where has made so many friends and memories.
He plans to remain at OMS as director of basketball operations and continue to coach track and field. The chance to stay on as part of the OMS sports scene and stay in constant contact young people he said he is blessed to be around factored large in his decision to step away from coaching basketball.
“It was still a tough decision,” said Spencer, who recorded 1,045 basketball wins against only 292 losses.
“Mr. Spangler talked to me (earlier in the year) and asked me to come to a decision over the weekend. I agonized over the weekend, very much so. I sat down with each person in my family and talked with them individually. They all felt like it is probably a good time. Sometimes coaches can stay too long in a job and it starts going downhill. I’m not talking about wins and losses — it just starts to become detrimental,” said Spencer.
“Mr. Spangler gave me a real opportunity to do something else, but stay connected. He was very nice and very helpful. I’m grateful for his giving me the opportunity to continue. I could still coach if I wanted to, but I thought after 40 years there comes a time to step down. I want to step down and go out when I’m kind of on top and things are still good, instead of staying too long. I will still be working at the school like I have been, just in different capacities.”
Ocoee Middle athletics director Kent Smith said he will miss Spencer on the Lady Colts’ sideline, but is looking forward to working with him in his new capacity.
“He will still be around. He has meant a lot to our programs and to our school. He has meant lot to the kids and has made a large impact on their lives. He’s a known figure around here. Everybody knows coach Spencer, from the cafeteria to the hardwood. I don’t think we will be missing him much on the “being here” side because he will still be around,” acknowledged Smith. “He will play a big role in our basketball and winter sports programs. He will be kind of like a winter sports AD. He will still be around supporting the kids in any leadership role we need.”
Spencer said he came to the conclusion after also talking with family and friends, who assured him the decision was the correct one.
“I talked to my wife (Charlotte), my daughters Jessica and Andrea — who also serves as assistant coach for the Lady Colts — and my buddy from Arkansas, who I have been friends with for over 60 years. They all seemed to agree this is a good opportunity, that I’ve had a good run and it might be time to let somebody else take over, and I can still be a part of it,” he said of the advice.
“It’s been wonderful. Why not go out while it’s a really good run in a wonderful situation?” Mr. Spangler has been super nice to me. All my principals have been very good to me. Mr. Spangler and coach (Kent) Smith, our athletics director, have always been behind me and have worked with me. And if they want me to be a part of their world and feel good about it then I think maybe it’s a good opportunity to help in that area. There comes a time that you have to do what you have to do. I could wait another year or two, but maybe that opportunity would not be there. ”
Spencer cited the changes in today’s society as another reason he took the opportunity offered by Spangler.
“The times have changed. And with the times changing and all that goes with that, maybe it’s time for someone younger to take over. I’m very much from the old school. That played a huge part in my thinking.”
During his time as coach of the Lady Colts, and even before, Spencer’s love for teaching youngsters the game of basketball never waned. The career choice also has afforded him countless opportunities to make lasting friends with other coaches, parents and the referees he admits he may have been a little rough on occasionally. The teaching moments as well as the challenges of besting a former Lady Colt on the basketball court are things he will miss most.
“I’ve always loved working with young people, I love teaching basketball. I love teaching character, attitude and being a part of sports. I love sports. That, I will miss greatly. I’m now coaching the girls of the girls I coached as kids. I’m also coaching against girls who played for me. I will miss that. I will miss those relationships. But I will still be connected in a way that I will still see people and talk to them,” he said. “I will also miss the relationships with the coaches. I have made a lot of friends with coaches over the years. I’ll miss working side by side with coach Smith. He does a wonderful job. I’ll miss all those connections I’m good friends with a lot of players and parents. I am good friends with all the referees but, I will still see them. I will still go to basketball games.
“Good memories are one of the most important things and help make us who we are. I’m lucky to be a part of an organization that has supported me and has been behind me and has given me additional opportunities if I want them; you can’t beat that. Really, there’s not a lot I won’t miss. I don’t mind working. Work doesn’t bother me. If you are going to be successful in anything you’ve got to put in the hours, you’ve got to put the work in it. If not, you don’t need to be in it.”
But just because he will have more free time under his 100-day contract with the county school system, Spencer will not necessarily be spending those free hours in on the beach under the shade of a palm tree — far from it. He plans be very active in family life and will still be a fixture at OMS basketball games.
“I’ll be very busy. This year I’ve been extremely busy, next year I’ll be just as busy. The only thing I won’t be doing is going to road games. I do like sitting under a palm tree and I do like to read books. But there are other things,” he said. “I like helping my daughters in their endeavors. My wife and I went out West this past summer, so there are a lot of things to keep me busy.”
The search for the new Lady Colts coach will continue to progress with early May as the target date for the hire. Smith said Spencer definitely will be involved in the search for only the third coach for OMS basketball in almost 45 years.
“Mr. Spangler and I will talk to Joe about several different things concerning the criteria and what we are looking for in a new coach. We’ve had two coaches since the 1970s when this school was known as Bradley Junior High. We’ve had two head girls basketball coaches in 40-something years, Larry Osborne and coach Spencer,” Smith said of the amazing statistic. “This is not a job that has been bounced around every four, five or eight years. We want to find somebody who can follow the trend and wants to be here for a long time.“Mr. Spangler said he is going to have a decision made by the first of May. That is the date we are targeting. We are going to be looking around.”
When the new coach does arrive, Spencer plans to be there in any capacity necessary to make sure the transition is a smooth one, and will offer any advice asked for by the newest member of the exclusive OMS coaching fraternity.
“Whoever the new coach is, I will be glad to give — if they want advice — certainly give them advice. I’m the type of person no matter who the coach is, I might say a word every now and then but the only way you are going to learn to coach is to coach. I won’t sit and try to coach or take over; I think that is the worst thing you can do.
“If there is someone who wants to ask me something, I will be glad to help. I’m looking forward to supporting whoever comes in. I’ve had my run and it’s time for someone else to have their run,” he said. “I love Ocoee Middle, I’ve been here a long time. I’m here ready to support whoever Mr. Spangler and Mr. Smith get as a coach. I am right behind them however they want me to be.”