In the splashiest coaching hire at Jordan High in more than a decade, the Panthers administration announced on Friday that they’ve hired former Millikan coach Chris Francis to be their new boys’ basketball coach. Francis will take over a once-proud Jordan program that’s fallen on hard times in the last several years, and finished in last place in the Moore League this year with a 1-12 overall record.
“We’re really enthusiastic,” said Jordan athletic director Lamar Biffle. “Get ready for some exciting hoops at J-Town.”
‘Exciting hoops’ was one of the school’s hallmarks for decades, as the Moore League and LBUSD’s third-oldest high school was known as a basketball powerhouse under the legendary coach Ron Massey, who Jordan named its court after in 2014. Massey was the coach at Jordan from 1981 through 2010, when he retired after 29 seasons that saw Jordan win three CIF Southern Section titles and seven Moore League titles.
Massey’s last Moore League title with the Jordan boys’ basketball team came in the 2008-09 season. Long Beach Poly has won every league title since, recently claiming its 13th title in a row. Massey’s last league crown was also the last Moore League championship won by any team at Jordan, as the school has been in a 12-year drought, one that Francis is uniquely poised to end.
“Coach Massey was a mentor of mine and I spoke at his retirement party,” said Francis. “I’m not trying to follow in his steps, I’m not worthy of comparing myself to that man. My expectation is progress, not to beat anybody or make any big promises. I’m just trying to keep the legacy going.”
The expectations are understandable, though. Francis took over a Millikan team that was 4-22 the season before he got there and went 82-52 over five seasons, including three 20-win efforts and a CIF Southern Section semifinal appearance in 2014.
Francis’ style is aggressive and loud, and he admitted it was a bit of a tough fit at Millikan, crediting then-principal Jeff Cornejo for taking a chance on an abrasive coach from Compton.
“Dr. Cornejo understood me, and I wouldn’t be in Long Beach Unified without him,” said Francis. “He went way outside the box when he hired me. He said I heard you come with a sharp tongue and I heard you’re intense, but if you direct it in a positive way and the kids respond I don’t have a problem.”
Like Biffle, Francis said he expected to be an even better fit at Jordan, a school known for hard-nosed coaching on the hardcourt.
“This is an edgy side of town and I’m an edgy kind of guy, I think it’s a match made in heaven,” said Francis. “Our goal is to come in and get the program back up and running as step one.”
Francis takes over for Jordan coach James McDonald, who’d been running the team for the last few seasons after volunteering to step up when the school was in need. Francis and Biffle both praised him for the job he did keeping things going, and Francis said he’s also excited to work with Biffle and with Jordan principal Keisha Irving, who was an administrator at Millikan when he was there.
“The most surprising thing to me is the love that the Long Beach community had for me,” said Francis. “It really blew me away.”