Franklin Regional hockey coach disappointed after being ousted

Wednesday, April 3, 2024 | 11:01 AM

John Winebrenner holds no ill will toward the Franklin Regional Hockey Club board, but that doesn’t mean he agrees with its decision to open his position.

Winebrenner, the Panthers’ coach since 2019, was told his time behind the bench is finished, a message that has him questioning why such a move was made.

The board voted to remove the coach, despite several successful seasons.

Winebrenner said he considered retiring at the end of the season but did not tender a letter, saying he decided to “stay for the 11 returning seniors.”

He said he thought he had the program in a good place and began to look to next year, but late-season rumblings of his possible dismissal materialized.

“It’s disappointing,” Winebrenner said. “You have young people coming in on the board who don’t even know me, and you have parents who want their kids to get varsity (playing) time and they think that will be assured by making a change. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Winebrenner has led the Panthers to three PIHL Class 2A Penguins Cup semifinals and two finals trips in five seasons. This year, the team reached the semis and lost to Thomas Jefferson, 9-3, to finish with a record of 11-8-0-1.

Three years ago, the Panthers were the fourth-ranked team in the state.

While multiple board members did not wish to comment on a personnel matter, board president Carl Williams said he disagreed with the firing of Winebrenner and believes the move is not in the best interest of the varsity program.

“John is a fantastic coach, and any kid would be fortunate to play for him,” Williams said. “There are some biased parents whose kids are not getting varsity playing time, so they chose to demonize John. There were a lot of things said. The rationale they gave us during the season was not something I agreed with.”

Winebrenner, 60, won PIHL and Pennsylvania Cup state championships when he coached at Latrobe in 2013. He has been coaching for 29 years, also working as an assistant at Hempfield and Norwin, as well as numerous amateur stops, including with the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1989.

He said he still wants to coach and is looking into potential opportunities at the Class 3A level.

Winebrenner could reapply at Franklin Regional, which could have board turnover with elections set for Sunday. He has not ruled out that possibility, but it would appear something has to give.

“The board isn’t always on the same page when they do things,” Winebrenner said. “You have people who have an agenda. I have had people contacting me asking, ‘Are they serious?’ ”

Franklin Regional made the playoffs last season in what Winebrenner called a rebuilding year. He had planned to oversee a potential rise to 3A for the Panthers.

Latrobe got rid of their coach a few years ago and had some growing pains,” Winebrenner said. “They have to play in Class A for a while. Change like this can really impact a program when you’re moving up JV kids who aren’t ready to play.”

Winebrenner referenced a similar situation at Peters Township in 2021 when longtime coach Rick Tingle was relieved of his duties despite winning two state titles.

“Rick fought hard to get his job back,” Winebrenner said. “It’s a shame he had to go through that.

“My end goal was to focus on getting them opportunities to play (beyond high school), whether it be for a college program or even club. I worked with a lot of those coaches.”

Franklin Regional’s hockey organization runs independently of the school district. Williams said he does not believe the board has Winebrenner’s replacement in mind.

“There are no harsh feelings on my side,” Winebrenner said. “It’s just that people need to see what is going on. This mentality that everybody gets a trophy, it is hurting programs and people need to know what is happening.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at


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