Tom Young’s résumé is as full as any coach that has stood on a Kansas sideline.
When he hung up his headset in McPherson in 2015, he wrapped up his career with 343 wins and state championships at three (Derby, Hanover, Wellington) of the five schools he coached. In fact, he’s the only coach to have won titles in three different classifications or schools.
The numbers don’t lack sheen and any player who donned green over his 21 years in Derby would probably agree.
What’s also representative of arguably one of the best coaching tenures in Kansas history is all of what happened outside the lines.
Bigger, faster, stronger
Weightlifting and a Tom Young-coached program were synonymous.
Whether it be stops at Wellington or Hanover before coming to Derby, players weren’t always the biggest, but they were going to be some of the most well-conditioned and strongest players on the field.
“Tom was light years ahead of his time,” former assistant Bill Shaw said. “Not only with the Xs and Os and the strategy of the game, but the weightlifting and conditioning too. He studied the game very, very hard and he had a brilliant mind for the game of football.”
Having been in Derby since the tenure of Tommy McVay, longtime athletic trainer Rex Schott can attest to Young’s precision in training.
“He’d always ask me if there would be something different we should be doing in the weight room,” Schott said. “If there was a drill they’d be doing that was causing problems, he’d let me give a lot of input into how things went and to keep kids from getting hurt.”
It wasn’t meant to be flashy either.
Shaw said he remembers first arriving in Wellington with Young in the early 1980s, seeing a 16-station universal gym for conditioning. Young had an expectation for what it would take and he “revolutionized” lifting with free weights.
Precision was also a part of Young’s vocabulary.
Whether it be on the sidelines, film room or doing walkthroughs in classrooms, it was to be done right.
Derby graduate and current coach Todd Olmstead recalls standing inside Young’s classroom when he was a math teacher, doing walkthroughs as assistant coaches. A slight misstep was not acceptable.
“He’d watch you and say, ‘I told you to take a 38.5 degree angle and that was a 39,’” Olmstead said. “That was how detailed he was.”
While there were obvious differences between the schools that Young coached at, the principles never changed.
“I bet if you put film of each school side by side, I would say that all of the offensive lines were unbelievable,” Olmstead said. “Not talent wise necessarily, but they knew what they were supposed to do technique wise inside and out.”
“Rah, rah” coaching wasn’t a part of Young’s DNA, but his coaches knew how that type of energy could and did translate to his players.
“Our teams [at Derby] were highly motivated and inspired,” Shaw said. “They’d knock the damn door down on the locker room to get to the field. It wasn’t from a speech from Coach Young. They knew we were totally prepared for that ball game through preparation throughout the week.”
A run of 21 years in Derby
Locker room setup?
Name what was needed and someone had it done on Young’s staff.
While his staff underwent minor changes periodically, many of his assistants spent a large chunk of their career with him on Derby sidelines.
“It was the camaraderie, No. 1,” Shaw said. “It was a staff that each and every individual was knowledgeable about the game of football. When you coach for Tom Young, the word preparation is a strong suit. We had to be very prepared in everything we did.”
Whether it be coach or player from the start of Young’s era in 1983 to the end in 2003, he instilled a source of pride in what it meant to put Derby on your chest.
“There is a lot of pride in [that football program] and it was very important to all of us,” Shaw said. “We wanted to have each of our positions totally prepared for our opponents.”
Respect from across the line of scrimmage
Olmstead still wonders if opponents would have nightmares of what adjustments Tom Young could make within 15 minutes at halftime.
In the first of two dates with Hutchinson in 2002, he was in the press box watching its opponent annihilate them with the speed option. Much to Young’s disdain, the answers weren’t coming.
Coming out of the locker room, the play wasn’t run one more time.
“They never ran it in the second half,” Olmstead said. “… They were so worried that [Young] would make the right adjustments and never came back to it. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a team be able to run a play like that and not go back to it. It was just amazing.”
It was also finding ways to meet with Young in his element to talk Xs and Os.
In the first trip the team made to the Tulsa camp on the university campus, a few coaches were out to eat at a restaurant across the street. A Wichita-area coach came up and sat with Young. Olmstead said he had a napkin and a pen and he was good to go.
“He sat there and picked Tom’s brain for two hours,” Olmstead said. “That was even from a potential playoff team we could have seen. It was cool to watch how other coaches would gravitate toward him to ask questions.”
Four state championship games
There may have only been one title in Young’s tenure in Derby, but there were four total trips to state. It was a part of an expectation of success that ran through the locker room, sideline and into the stands.
The legacy of winning also made an impact much like it has now on younger age groups.
“Anything but a W at the end of the night was unheard of,” Derby graduate and 1994 state champion Doug Simpler said. “… You’d go to games, sit with other kids and the playoff games of the 1990s, it was still shocking. Those players were your heroes.”
The tides turned in 1993, playing in Derby’s first state championship game since 1975.
There were moments of disappointment, including losses to Lawrence (1993, 1995) and Olathe North (2002). Derby was able to win the middle game of the three played against one of Class 6A’s winningest programs.
As much as hoisting that trophy was a moment those players had dreamt of since growing up in Derby, there are moments outside the games that ring just as loudly.
“We had the good fortunes of having one of the best coaches in the state,” Simpler said. “… You just knew and trusted that this guy was going to do the right thing for the team. You never doubted his knowledge or his coaching mentality. He almost felt mythical at the time because of his success.”
It was those memories that Simpler found himself diving into as he and his teammates celebrated their Hall of Fame induction last fall.
After the Friday practice prior to the 1994 state championship game, Young asked his players to take a knee. It was a final walkthrough before going to Lawrence.
“He told us, ‘tomorrow is going to be a great game and you all will do great,’” Simpler said. “But he told us to do great for each other. Don’t go win this game for me, Derby or your parents … do it for each other. When I think about that, you could feel that friendship that we had gained and the respect we had for each other. That comes not only from the success of the team, but strong leadership from the coaching level too.”
Years after Derby football
Before wrapping up his coaching career with nine years in McPherson, Young had a two-year stint in Leavenworth.
Current assistant and a Derby graduate himself, Chris Devore finds himself grateful for the years spent playing for the now Derby Hall of Fame selection.
“It was an honor to be on the same field and team as him and to spend time with him,” Devore said. “When I played we would talk all about Panther Pride and there is a lot of pride in this program. A lot of that came straight from Coach Young.”
As the winningest coach in Derby history, it just makes sense for Olmstead.
“He probably should have been in the very first one done,” Olmstead said. “He is the epitome of the Derby Hall of Fame for as long as he was here.”