Franklin coach Armstrong ready to re-up, not retire

Mike Armstrong never game-planned a way to gradually phase himself out of coaching girls basketball.

At this rate, Armstrong, who turned 62 in April, probably won’t.

Uninterested in attaching his level of effectiveness as a strategist, communicator and motivator to a specific number, Armstrong, hired as Franklin’s head coach after two seasons as a Grizzly Cubs assistant, possesses the energy of someone half his age — or younger.

His long-winded inventory of hoops experiences — most positive, others not so much — is surpassed by, at most, a scant few in and around the Indiana prep scene.

From 1986 to 2020, Armstrong was head coach at Perry Meridian, guiding the Falcons to 426 victories and six sectional championships. In 2003, the program made its first and so far only appearance at a state finals, losing to Kokomo, 44-42, in the 4A title game.

Armstrong’s so-called retirement gig was gratifying in too many ways to count. Thus, when Josh Sabol surprised many with his resignation in April after six seasons at Franklin, Armstrong chose to apply to be his successor.

“I loved what I did the last two years immensely. I was so glad Josh called and asked me to do this,” Armstrong said. “I wasn’t really sure at first, but once I got down here, met the kids and got involved … the role was really, really enjoyable for me.

“As I told them when I had an interview, I’ve applied for no head coaching jobs once I came to Franklin. I was content in the role that I was in, and thought I would be back with Josh next year and the year after that.”

Sabol eventually told Armstrong about the possibility of stepping down. Once he made it official, Armstrong decided that it was important to maintain the momentum the program built over the past two winters — including a 50-5 record, consecutive Class 4A sectional and regional titles and a state runner-up finish in February.

Juniors-to-be Scarlett Kimbrell, Lauren Klem, Erica Buening and Brooklyn York are battle tested, having already played an abundance of varsity minutes. These four and senior guard Kyndell Jochim teamed to account for 39% of the Grizzly Cubs’ points during the 2021-22 season.

“Obviously, the team is good. Maybe very good,” Armstrong said. “But the relationships I’ve built with the players the last two years, I wanted to make sure I continued that. As I told the people on the interview committee, and as I told the girls on the first day, I’m here because of them.

“They’re terrific basketball players, but they’re better people. That’s what really drew me toward wanting to do this. I’m not sure I want to head coach just anywhere. I want to head coach with these kids.”

Armstrong’s sense of loyalty goes back long before any of his current players were born.

“The unique thing about him is his commitment and his loyalty to young athletes. It’s unparalleled,” said 1997 Perry Meridian graduate and Indiana All-Star Katie Douglas, who later starred at Purdue and for the Indiana Fever. Douglas is among the hundreds of basketball players influenced by Armstrong the past three and a half decades.

“Mike was that constant, constant figure at Perry Meridian. He, literally, if anything was happening on the premises, you knew he was there. He’s just consistent and constant in people’s lives.”

Armstrong had opportunities to watch Franklin’s middle school teams play this past season, and he’s excited about the quality of talent and human beings that will be joining his varsity and junior varsity players in the not-so-distant future.

“Though I don’t have the same kind of relationship with them, I want to work with the eighth-grade and seventh-grade teams I saw last year,” he said. “They’re good groups. I’m coming for the kids who are at Franklin now, but I’m not coming just for the next two years.”

Armstrong will continue teaching ninth-grade physical education at Perry Meridian; he’s also been the Falcons’ girls cross country coach since the fall of 1992 and will remain so.

His plan is to teach at least through the 2024-25 school year — maybe longer.

The coach tells the story how both his parents used to look forward to the time when they were able to exit the workforce, but once those days arrived, it was a square-peg, round-hole scenario.

So their message was simple: If you enjoy what you do, do it as long as you can.

“Age is just a number,” Armstrong said. “What do you enjoy doing? I enjoy coaching basketball. I enjoy teaching school. I enjoy coaching cross country.

“I tell people all the time, you see people who are coaching into their 70s. J.R. Holmes is still coaching (at Bloomington South). Jack Keefer just got out (at Lawrence North). I don’t know if I’m going to coach that long, but I certainly felt like I wanted to continue coaching. This was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

And so the oldest of Bob and Melanie Armstrong’s three sons continues on. Coaching. Teaching. Inspiring. And, he hopes, winning.