It’s two days before the Snohomish Panthers will open their first football season in 47 years without assistant coach Keith Gilbertson Sr. somewhere on the sideline, and the slogan adopted by this year’s senior players is, “All for You.”
It’s not entirely about Gilby, who died in February at age 83 after coaching at Snohomish High School for 61 continuous years. The slogan also addresses the SHS student body, parents and fans, and the community as a whole. But Coach Gilbertson, who primarily worked with the Panthers’ offensive backs in recent years, is a major part of it.
“When we started, we first thought of dedicating the season to Coach Gilbertson, then it grew to include the whole town,” said senior running back Conner McDonald before Wednesday’s practice leading up Friday’s opener. “I miss him. We used to talk every day.”
Indeed, the continued respect from both players and coaches remains evident.
“We all miss him,” said senior quarterback Mitchell Stewart. “He was always there at practice, watching the backs and telling guys ways to get better. . . . It’s a lot different when he’s not out there.”
Senior running back Jord0n Holland offered some examples.
“There were a couple of times last year where I wasn’t running low enough or maybe taking a play off at practice, and he always saw it and would holler out, ‘Jordon!’ It made me try harder,” Holland said. “I also remember him getting knocked down a couple times at practice, and he always got right back up and said, ‘Hit me harder next time.’ ”
No one has replaced Gilbertson on Mark Perry’s coaching staff, with no one feeling the loss any more than the head coach, sometimes in very subtle ways.
“Twice in the first 10 days of practice, I came out in the wrong clothes and either froze or sweated to death,” Perry said. “He was always my weather vane. No matter how it looked outside before practice, you never knew what it would be like 30 minutes later. I used to ask Gilb, ‘What’s the weather going to be like,’ and he always knew and would tell me if I needed shorts or rain gear.”
Line coach Ed Lucero was a close friend and colleague for 35 years.
“We were position coaches together ever since I came here, and I used to stand next to him on the sideline at every game,” said Lucero, a member of Dick Armstrong’s staff from 1977 through 1994 and a member of Perry’s staff since 2000. “It’s like a big hole out here.”
Offensive coordinator Barry Rodland, a 1968 SHS grad, had Gilby for his position coach back in high school and had been coaching with Gilbertson since the late 1980s when he first joined Armstrong’s staff to help coach the sophomore team.
“I miss him like crazy,” Rodland said of Gilbertson. “There’s been a ton of times at practice, when I’ve been watching our backs running plays, and he used to stand right next to me, watching and evaluating and sharing things that he saw, and now I’m going, ‘Coach, where are you?’
“In games, I’m up in the booth generally watching the other team’s defense, trying to think ahead about what plays to call. And I relied on him (on the sideline) to watch our backs and provide anything that we needed to know. I’m going to miss that.
“And on Saturday mornings, we always met for a couple of hours to watch film and go over our next opponent and decide what areas the backs really needed to work on for the next game. I’m really going to miss that.”
Perry said he’ll now take on the extra responsibility of monitoring his own backs during games while missing all the expertise that Gilbertson provided. One thing he won’t miss, however, is the occasional last-minute supper he’d previously try to slip in at home just before his regular Sunday night coaches’ meeting at 6:30 p.m.
“I tried that a couple of times before, just trying to eat something before they showed up, but with Gilbertson, you always knew his car would be in my driveway by 6 o’clock.”
To show support for the Keith Gilbertson Sr. Memorial Scholarship endowment, click here.