The Monroe City football team credits its undefeated record to playing loose, something promoted by coach David Kirby.
If not for his players wearing helmets and pads, it would be difficult to tell what David Kirby is teaching during a typical practice at Monroe City.
Random movie quotes to anything Pixar-related can be heard being discussed, as well as the best of the ‘90’s music to John Mayer. Debates about the best movies and songs of all time break out at any moment during a Panthers practice.
But one thing that doesn’t take much debate is the success of the Panthers on game day. Over the last two seasons, the Panthers have racked up 22 wins and counting.
People outside the walls at Monroe City will tell you the success is because of the talented players strapping on the helmets and pads every Friday.
But ask every player inside the Panthers locker room and they have a different explanation.
“It all starts with coach (Kirby),” senior fullback and linebacker Cole Pennewell said. “He is always joking around and keeping us loose, but there is time for him to criticize us as well. He’s strict when he needs to be, but there’s a good mixture. He’s just a really good head coach.”
All-state lineman Jon Saxbury mentioned Kirby’s style of coaching has not only helped the current team but he can see it affecting those in the future as well.
“Coach is just a good, fun dude,” Saxbury said. “He has changed this program a lot. We suffered for a while, but he has found a system and strategy that works for us now and what we are accomplishing is because of him and I think it is going to stay that way for a long time.”
When asked about his coaching approach, Kirby first paused, smiled and then explained.
“Honestly you just have to know the vibe of your team,” the Panthers coach said. “And this team plays really well when they are loose. They know there is still a game to be played and we still practice really hard, but we also let them know, at times, it’s OK to laugh. It’s OK to smile and enjoy practice, because if we all (coaching staff) were out here yelling like a military style, I don’t think that would work.”
In fact, Kirby knows the strict in-your-face yelling style of coaching does not work.
“When I first got here, I kind of took that approach,” he admitted. “And it didn’t work. That was not my personality and it definitely wasn’t the personality of the kids. I feel like because of that style, we were not as successful as what we should have been.”
The Panthers coaching staff realizes at the end of the day, their players are kids and sometimes they have to allow them to be just that.
And most of the time, Kirby is the biggest kid among the team.
“Everyday we start (practice) by talking about something non-football related,” Michael Ryan said. “Whether it’s something about wrestling or music or movies, it’s really just anything to get us energized. We all pick on each other as well for a little bit to stay loose because that is how we practice the best.”
The players mentioned Kirby has nicknames for all of them, which is all part of the fun. But they were also quick to point out they have some nicknames for their coach as well.
“We do, but we don’t dare speak of them in front of him,” Ryan said laughing. “And Saxbury does an amazing impersonation of coach.”
Kirby mentioned he was unaware of the the players' nicknames for him, but was not shocked to learn about the impersonation.
“I see how it is, now I am kind of wondering,” Kirby said laughing of the nicknames. “That is pretty funny though. And I am sure Sax’s impersonation is spot on. During film they all point out I have pregnant lady pose because I have my hand behind my back and my belly is popping out.”
With all the joking around that takes place during every practice, all the players know when it’s time to get serious as well.
“He makes it fun, but coach always emphasizes when it’s time to get down to business, it’s time to get to work,” Saxbury said. “We can have a good time in the huddle, but when we line up to play it’s time to go and go hard until the whistle.”
Ryan mentioned the laid back personality of Kirby, as well as his genuine interest in his players outside of football, makes the team want to reach new levels.
“I don’t want to say he’s like a friend out there to us 'cause he is a figure of authority as well, but just being able to talk to him about anything keeps us loose,” Ryan said. “We all look up to him as a role model and I know I will fight tooth and nail and leave blood, sweat and tears out on the field for coach and I know all my brothers beside me would do the same.”
Hearing the way his players think and respect him moved Kirby back a bit.
“That’s pretty powerful,” Kirby said. “I have some really good boys. They can be ornery at times, they can be knuckleheads but we hold them to a pretty high standard. And they have taught me a lot more about a lot of things than what I have taught them. But to hear them say all of that, it makes you realize this is why you get into coaching. I appreciate them all.”