James "Buddy" Biggs has coached in the Panther Den five times since 2002, when he first set foot there in the first year of a now-18-year head-coaching career. He still had something to learn about Fleming County's renovated basketball facility when Panthers athletic director Bill Spencer showed him around recently.
"I knew where the visiting locker room was, but I didn't know where the home locker room was and I didn't know where their office was," Biggs said, laughing, telling Spencer, "'I know where I dressed for 20 years, it was down the hall here.' He just laughed and took me down there."
Other than that, Fleming County has hired a face familiar with the local and regional scene in Biggs. The veteran coach and recent retiree from education returns to the 16th Region, where he led Ashland from 2006-15, but retains a manageable commute from his Maysville home.
"It was kind of a perfect storm for me because literally it's 18 minutes from my house," Biggs said. "I don't have to move; I don't have to relocate my family or change schools for my youngest son. It's a good fit in that regard.
"And the timing of it too, I just retired in July, so if this job opened up in the spring or the summer, I couldn't have even applied for it, interviewed for it or anything else. The timing in a weird way worked out for my situation."
The job opened in September, when Chris Stapleton stepped down as the Panthers' bench boss. Biggs was introduced as Fleming County's interim coach at a press conference on Thursday night, although he said that is simply the terminology the district uses for coaching hires made during a school year and that it doesn't indicate he only intends to be around for the short term.
"My hope is to be there as long as they'll have me," Biggs said.
It's Biggs's fourth head-coaching gig in a career that dates back to the grade-school level at age 18. He took over at Pendleton County at age 31 and led the Wildcats for five years.
Pendleton County won the 10th Region Tournament title in 2005 and went 102-51 before he left for Ashland. A memory from that stint that stuck with Biggs is Pendleton County's trip to Fleming County -- then in the 10th Region -- in February of his first season in Falmouth.
"We competed against Lake Kelly, the legend, the man in Fleming County," Biggs said. "That brought back some fond memories."
Biggs then coached the Tomcats for nine seasons. Ashland went 172-115 under his stead, won six 64th District titles and reached four 16th Region Tournament finals.
Dismissed at Ashland in 2015, Biggs caught on at Mason County and stayed there for three years. The Royals were 57-41 under his stead and claimed another 10th Region crown in 2016, almost exactly a year to the day after Biggs had been fired from his previous job.
Biggs, 50, said he's found a better work-life balance than earlier in his career. He could often be found scouting a future opponent almost any night the Tomcats didn't have a game and said in an interview after losing that job that "a demanding style is what is necessary" in response to a perception that he asked too much of his players.
"I used to work until 11, 12 o'clock every night just because that's what I thought I was supposed to do," Biggs said. "The time away from my family was tough, and I think at times maybe I worked my teams too hard earlier in my career. I think I have a better handle on -- especially right before I got out at Mason and hopefully now too -- it's more important to have a team that's fresh late in the season than a team that has outworked everybody to that point. That's my goal. I just want to work smarter this time around, not necessarily harder."
Biggs touted Fleming County's mixture of young talent and experience -- the Panthers could return eight players who competed in 20 games or more last season -- and said observers can expect to see what Biggs's teams usually do.
"We're gonna play fast," Biggs said. "That's all I've ever done. That's what I believe in, and I think the success I've had in my career is because we've played that way. I think these kids are more than capable of doing that.
"I think we got some good shooters and guys that can penetrate. I'm gonna cut 'em loose and we're gonna play fast, at least on the offensive side of the ball."
Spencer tabbed the school "excited" for Biggs's arrival.
"Coach Biggs comes to us with an enormous amount of experience and has had a tremendous amount of success," Spencer said. "He has been successful with schools our size and with similar demographics. We welcome coach Biggs and look forward to the success we know he will bring to our program."
Biggs is a graduate of Covington Catholic and Northern Kentucky University. He is married to Allison. He has two sons -- Case, who turned 7 on Sunday, and Jeston, 26.
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