To the people who know him well, this is no shock. It’s something Koester has done in some fashion every day for much of the last 35-plus years, but that changed earlier this year.
In January, after leading South Cobb to a 22-11 record in one of the best three-year stretches of the program’s history — which included its first state playoff victory — Koester resigned his position as the Eagles’ coach.
At the time, he said the 90-minute commute each day from his home in Cherokee County had become too much, and he wanted to spend more quality time with his family.
While the 57-year-old Koester stands by his statement, others with knowledge of the South Cobb program have suggested otherwise.
They feel the owner of 139 career victories, 16 winning seasons, 13 playoff appearances and five district or region championships as a coach at South Cobb, Cherokee, Arlington Heights in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bixby High School in Oklahoma was pushed off the sideline because he wanted to apply for another job in Cobb County.
When asked to clarify the situation, South Cobb principal Ashley Hosey said he was not allowed to comment on personnel matters, but the irony is, now that Koester has the opportunity to freely search for a new coaching position, he can’t find one — not even as an assistant.
But this is not meant to give the impression that Koester is sitting next to a football field waiting for practice to start with a sign that says, “Will coach for food.” Because he's not.
Koester is still a teacher at South Cobb. Last year, he earned his doctorate in education, and with his experience in the classroom, he should not have a problem putting food on the table for his family.
But he’s missing the big piece that makes him the man he is today — his ability to teach on the field.
So far this spring, Koester says he’s applied for at least five head-coaching positions in and around the metro-Atlanta area. In at least two cases, he was led to believe the job was his only to later receive a call to say that particular school would hire from within.
Koester even took a flyer on the job at Savannah State University. With his application, he included letters of recommendation from other coaches he has had the opportunity to worth with, including Pope’s Matt Kemper.
Kemper’s statements were a good indication of what the majority of coaches in Cobb County said about Koester.
“I have been blessed to have coached, or currently coach, three of my own sons,” Kemper wrote in his letter. “I would want them on Coach Koester’s team. He is the kind of man that is all too rare in coaching today and the kind of man that should be leading a football program and its young men.”
Based on the feelings of the coaches in the county, it would seem like a natural fit for Koester to work on one of their staffs next season. The problem is, with the Cobb County School District potentially cutting nearly 200 teaching positions from next year’s budget, it’s unlikely that there will be a physical education or social studies opening — Koester’s areas of teaching expertise — for him to fill. If there are available slots, there’s a good chance there would be a recruiting battle for his services.
Unfortunately, one of the other reasons that may be holding Koester back is his age.
He knows that 57 can be a tough hurdle to overcome, but he’s proven he can adjust as times change. Koester allowed his players to design South Cobb’s new red-fade-to-blue helmet scheme last season, and he has a Twitter account.
But, more importantly, he knows how to win football games.
And there should be no question of his dedication level. Last season, in the week after he helped lead South Cobb to the 300th win in its program's history, he told the story about how he almost made the ultimate sacrifice for his profession.
In 2007, Koester was an assistant on then-coach Derek Cook’s South Cobb staff, and the coaches decided it would be a good idea to ride bicycles to practice in order to get there before the players.
This seemed like a good idea until Koester, on a ride to practice, misjudged a ditch. When the bike hit the edge, he flew over the handle bars and quickly found himself lying in the bottom of the trench for 30 minutes without the ability to move.
Initially, some of the coaches and players thought he was kidding around. What had actually happened is Koester had fractured the sixth and seventh lumbar vertebra at the base of his neck. And because of the way he was lying on the ground, the pressure of the injury was not allowing Koester to breathe properly.
All football coaches know, the last thing you do when a player has a neck injury is move him. In Koester’s case, he convinced the coaches to go against their better judgment.
“Just before the ambulance got there, on my last breath, I asked them to roll me just a little bit,” Koester said. “When they did, it took the pressure off a nerve and my diaphragm kick-started my breathing again. I was about to pass out and I might have died.”
Things didn’t get much better once he got to the hospital. Twice, he was dropped off an examining table, and doctors mistakenly sent him home without treatment, only to call and have him rush back to the hospital.
And then, when Koester returned, they drilled holes in his skull.
Doctors inserted bolts on either side of Koester’s head — similar to the ones sported by the old TV Frankenstein, Herman Munster — to create a makeshift halo device to aid with putting him in traction. For 56 hours, he laid in bed with a 20-pound weight dangling from the device to help take pressure off the damaged vertebrae.
Two weeks later, Koester was back on the field coaching the South Cobb offensive line.
Now, he doesn’t know what the future will bring.
Some may see this as bad luck. Others may see it as karma.
All I know is, the job he did at South Cobb with limited resources — no more than five assistant coaches on staff at any time, limited financial help from the booster club and the beginnings of a transient student population — was nothing short of incredible.
If I was hiring a coach, I know who would be at the top of my list.
John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/jbednarowski.