Gilmore hoping to help Panthers get back on their feet

Bob Gilmore, who was Polytech’s head football coach from 2006-08, would like to think experience has made him a better coach than he was then. Submitted photo

WOODSIDE — For just a moment, Bob Gilmore gets choked up.

The memory of what happened — and what almost happened — last fall is still a pretty emotional one for the Polytech High coach.

“They almost watched their teammate die,” Gilmore finally said, referring to the Panthers’ football players.

The incident came when junior running back Collin Jaksch suffered a serious head injury in a game. Only immediate emergency surgery saved his life that night.

“For me right now,” Gilmore continued, “it’s making sure that we’re OK inside. I’m really focused on what our kids feel and think about ourselves more so than I am worried what anybody else thinks.”

A dozen years after he was last Polytech’s head football coach, Gilmore is going to see if he can get the Panthers back in a good place.

The 55-year-old Dover resident was hired as Polytech’s head football coach last month. He takes over a program that had to forfeit its final two games last season because of a player shortage.

The Panthers have lost 19 of their last 21 contests.

The Polytech Panthers are shown in action against Caesar Rodney last fall. The Panthers have lost 19 of their last 21 contests. Delaware State News file photo

But, while Gilmore hasn’t been the head grid coach since 2008, he is also a Polytech lifer. He’s the only person who’s been on staff the entire time since the school opened in 1990.

He’s worked for every head football coach the Panthers have had, except one, and he’s the only head boys’ lacrosse coach Polytech has had in the program’s two decades of existence.

In his role as Polytech’s ‘School Climate Specialist,’ Gilmore also knows a lot of the students. So helping the Panthers get back on solid footing means a great deal to him.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Are you sure?’” said Gilmore. “‘You’ve got so many years in, why are you looking for stress?’ was the way they put it.

“My sons grew up here,” he said, referring to his children, Chris and Tom. “From when they could walk, they were on the practice fields and around the kids here, in the stands at basketball games. This place has given a lot to my family. So it’s another opportunity to give back at a time when I can.”

Having an experienced coach, who works in the building, seems like a good thing for the program right now, said athletic director George Eilers.

“I feel real comfortable having Bobby as our next coach,” said Eilers. “He understands the history of Polytech football. He understands what our kids go through. He’s in the hallways every day. He’s got a good pulse of the kids.

“It was unfortunate what happened last year. We had some things we need to address. I’m very confident that Bobby and his staff will be able to address those.”

Because of the scheduling cycle, the Panthers will still play a Henlopen North slate this fall. In 2021, though, they’ll play the first of two seasons as an independent. Delaware State News file photo

Even before Gilmore was hired, Polytech’s football program was in a state of flux.

After the way last season ended, the school board first announced it was leaving the Henlopen Conference in all sports but then opted to stay when the league said it could leave in football only.

Because of the scheduling cycle, the Panthers will still play a Henlopen North slate this fall. In 2021, though, they’ll play the first of two seasons as an independent.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that anybody will be playing football this September because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation also means that high school teams aren’t getting ready for summer 7-on-7 leagues or hitting the weight room right now.

Like most coaches, however, Gilmore is doing what he can to set a foundation for the next season. He’s been having one-on-one video conferences with his players, trying to see what they think the issues are with the program and how to solve them.

Gilmore hopes the conversations will also leave the players feeling more invested in their team.

“I want to know what they think it’s going to take to help turn this thing around,” he said. “Some of those kids are pretty intuitive. It helps me get a little more buy-in, but, legitimately, we don’t want to dictate everything to them.”

“Making connections is what I think makes Bobby such a strong coach,” said Eilers.

A dozen years after he was last Polytech’s head football coach, Bob Gilmore is going to see if he can get the Panthers back in a good place. Submitted photo

Considering the way things finished up last fall, getting some more players out for football will be an important first step for the Panthers. They had fewer than 20 when they decided to forfeit their last two games.

“We want to get kids out,” said Eilers. “We want to change the culture of what it means to be a high school athlete. And we want to make it fun again.

“Ultimately, our goals are like any high school — win a state championship, win a conference. But, right now, we’ve got more immediate concerns that we need to address and we’re excited to get to work on it.”

Gilmore, who was Polytech’s head football coach from 2006-08, would like to think experience has made him a better coach than he was then.

He also realizes that he’s taking over a program which has been through some difficult times lately. When he looks at the game film from last season, though, he sees a bunch of players who are better than the outside world is telling them they are.

“Our kids have a lot of excitement,” said Gilmore. “They want to do well, they want to work hard. They’re showing up and there’s definitely a desire to play football again.

“I look at film from last year and there’s certainly a group of kids here that play hard and that play well. We’ve just got to develop them and develop more of them.”