“Once a Panther, always a Panther.”
The motto is widely used through the Derby High School halls and, for half of the football coaching staff, the words ring as true as ever.
Chris Pinaire (offensive line), Chris Devore (wide receivers/special teams), David Tullis (safeties), Eric Hendrick (cornerbacks), Jarrod Foster (wide receivers) and Todd Olmstead (running backs) are all coaching the same program they played in during high school.
“It makes it more special being a coach here for the fact that we all played here,” Olmstead said. “We’re all a part of this tradition that we have of winning.”
A number of them went on to play college football, including Devore and Tullis at Kansas State and Hendrick at Pittsburg State, but their roots are firmly entrenched in Panther green.
Five of the six, minus Tullis, played during Tom Young’s run as head coach.
“[Most of us] played for Coach Young and revere the man,” Pinaire said. “It’s just that tradition … Growing up in this town, Derby football is king and the family atmosphere is absolutely wonderful.”
Olmstead, who is a 1989 graduate, first came back to Derby in 1997 and joined all of the coaches that he played under. He had just moved back to the area and he coincidentally ran into former coach Steve Wilson while visiting his parents.
“He told me there was an opening and I called Coach Young,” he said. “He basically hired me over the phone.”
The running backs coach said there were nerves in working alongside his former coaches, but it paved the way for what has now been the longest running staff position with the program. He’s entering year No. 22 with the team.
“It was so different sitting in the meetings with Coach Young instead of Monday game planning and seeing that part [as a player],” Olmstead said. “Coaching with those guys, I learned a ton.”
Former defensive coordinator Cade Armstrong would jokingly refer to Olmstead as “Dad,” which was funny for a coach who was once the youngest on the staff in the late 1990s.
Tullis, who graduated in May 2014 and caught the game-sealing interception in its 2013 state-championship win over SM East, is now the rookie on staff and his co-coaches like to have fun with him as well.
“We’ll tell him, ‘no talking when the adults are talking,’” Pinaire said, laughing. “He’s a wonderful addition to the staff because he’s close to these kids in age, but far enough where he generates that respect. He’s very knowledgeable and he played at Kansas State [just last year].”
Devore said it’s easy to spot the similarities and differences between he and his fellow staff and the coaches they played for. However, the wide receiver/special teams coach said he’s more focused on taking different pieces to blend together in his coaching.
As a coach, your personalities are different, but you can take pieces of different people and parlay that into what you’re doing,” he said. “That’s always been my approach to it.”
Pinaire, Devore and Foster all played at various points of Derby’s three-straight state championship games against Lawrence in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The school won the second of those three games, 21-0.
One look at the stadium and coaches, fans and players can spot obvious differences over the past 20-25 years. However, Pinaire said there remains a constant in the years since their playing days.
“Part of the beautiful thing is [the program] itself hasn’t changed,” the offensive line coach said. “There are so many things that have changed in the world, but there is one constant in Derby, Kansas, and that’s Friday nights in the fall … That’s the thing to do and that’s a beautiful thing.”