Former Hillsborough County athletic director Vernon Korhn, whose influential career in local high school coaching and athletics administration spanned parts of five decades, passed away Monday after a battle with cancer.
Kimberly Korhn Bell, one of Mr. Korhn’s two children, confirmed his death. A 2006 inductee into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, Mr. Korhn was 75.
An unflappable embodiment of resilience, Mr. Korhn had lost both parents by age 14 but found surrogates in his coaches, who inspired him to excel academically and athletically, and ultimately join their profession.
“I grew up without a dad, so he was one of the guys that was a role model that made me want to be a high school football coach,” said longtime Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia, a 1970 Plant alumnus who played for Panthers teams on which Mr. Korhn served as an assistant.
“My high school coaches were my role models ... so he was special to me and always will be.”
A straight-A student and president of his Plant High senior class, Mr. Korhn won the Guy Toph Award — presented annually to Hillsborough County’s top football player — in 1962. He blew out his knee playing quarterback at Florida State but rehabilitated and transferred to the University of Tampa, playing three seasons for the Spartans and graduating with a degree in physical education in 1968.
From there, a sprawling coaching career ensued.
Over the next several years, Mr. Korhn coached everything from football to wrestling, swimming, basketball and track and field. He spent six seasons (1972-1977) as football coach at Leto, notching a pair of winning seasons before stepping down to enter administration. He remained offensive coordinator for the 1978 Falcons team that finished 10-1 and still is widely considered the best in school history.
Former Carrollwood Day coach Lane McLaughlin, a senior on that 1978 squad, said he still uses some of Mr. Korhn’s adages and practice techniques to this day. Among his favorite Korhn mantras: Be the hammer, not the nail.
“He was always level-headed, and that’s why he was a good administrator,” said McLaughlin, now offensive coordinator at Zephyrhills Christian Academy. “He could fire you up before a game, though.”
Mr. Korhn served as the county’s assistant athletic director from 1988-2000 before being promoted to AD, a position he held until his retirement in October 2006.
Garcia described him as a great listener who made everyone feel as if their opinion mattered.
“He would let you have your say, and then he would take the time to explain why he couldn’t or could accommodate you,” Garcia said. “He always had time for you. You always knew that Vernon was administering in a way that was best for boys and girls athletics in our school district.”
Not content with full-fledged retirement, Mr. Korhn became girls golf coach at his alma mater, leading Plant’s 2011 squad to the Class 2A state tournament. An excellent golfer himself, he also was a “world-class” badminton player, according to McLaughlin.
“He was one of the true coach-administrators,” former longtime Robinson High football coach Mike DePue said.
“He was probably the last of that type of administrator in the county, where he had been a coach. Now, administrators are more concerned about the shirt and tie, and being politically correct. He was a coach’s administrator. He was firm, he was fair, but he went out of his way to make sure things got done the right way, and people got treated correctly.”
Today, Hillsborough County’s annual award for overall athletic performance — presented to the school that excels in academics, sportsmanship and success of its teams — is named in Mr. Korhn’s honor. So is the county track and field meet.
“No one was happier when I got a head coaching job than he was,” McLaughlin said. “I called my mom, my dad and Coach Korhn. He was that kind of guy.”
Mr. Korhn is survived by his wife Brenda, daughter Kimberly and son Vernon “Trey” Korhn III, and five grandchildren.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.