Erle Bennett is the only Centralia varsity football coach an entire generation has ever known.
Now, after more than two decades at the helm and over 200 career wins on his resume', he has stepped aside and handed over control of the program to new head coach Jim Newsted.
"My approach will be that I know have to be a leader of football coaches (my staff), not just the players," said Newsted. "In the years past, all I had to do was worry about installing my leader's (head coach) vision to the athletes. This season it is my vision. I have had to decide direction of the team. It is my job to now educate my staff on this vision, and prepare them to install this vision."
Because Newsted's fist year teaching and coaching at Centralia was 1998, this will be his 20th season as a Panther. In that time he served as the quarterback and defensive back coach for two seasons before becoming the offensive line coach and defensive coordinator in 2000. In 2011 he then gave up his defensive duties to become the offensive coordinator and held that position until this year.
"I have to make sure the coaching staff and I are ready to not just teach the boys the X and O's of the game, but to make sure they are equipped to develop these boys into good young men. Young men with character, work ethic, leadership and responsibility," Newsted said. "My success at Centralia will not be measured by wins and losses, but instead by how my staff and I have groomed these young men to become great employees, husbands, and fathers. This is our responsibility."
Even though Newsted might appear to have more of an offensive approach to the game, during the course of his career he's coached every defensive position at one time or another. Some of that experience came during the four years he was part of the staff at Cass-Midway in Cleveland, Mo., under Hall Of Fame coach Larry Burchett.
"I have learned many football plays, schemes, and strategies from countless coaches over the years. But Erle Bennett, my mentor, my leader, and my best friend has taught me over the years what is really important about the game of football," said Newsted. "I only hope that I can continue on his tradition of turning young athletes into men of character, and if I can, the wins will take care of themselves."
During the day Newsted was teaching mostly science classes at Centralia. This included Chemistry, Biology, Anatomy, Physical Science, Ecology and Advanced Biology. Now he's changed his focus and is currently the Panthers Physical Education Instructor.
"Being a Panther is more than just being a sports figure in Centralia. 'The Panther way' is to do right, treat yourself and others with respect and to be prideful in everything you do, whether it be sports, music, band, FFA, the classroom or at home," Newsted said. "There is no other district I want my own child to attend other than Centralia. We have great teachers, great coaches, great mentors and great leaders. I hope, as the new Head Football Coach I can be apart of that Leadership Fraternity."
As for the role Newsted has played in other areas of the Centralia athletic department over the years, he's been the varsity track and field coach since 2002. He's also been an assistant wrestling and basketball coach, mostly because his passion and pride as a Panther can't be contained by a single sport or season.
"It's a big responsibility and privilege to help lead Centralia. I'm blessed the administration and the board of education has the faith in me to continue this tradition," said Newsted. "We have a saying in Centralia football, a motto that Erle Bennett installed in this team, school and community. 'Remember who you are. Remember where you're from. and remember what that means.' No matter how long my tenure is here in Centralia, I'll hold these words close to my heart because, 'WE ARE CENTRALIA'."