When Steve Bainer, Derby’s head baseball coach and social studies teacher, learned there would be an opening for to become the school’s head football coach, he leaped at the opportunity.
“To me, it was always a dream come true to coach baseball and football and teach in building,” he said.
Now, he’ll get that chance.
Bainer, who will turn 32 on Sunday, was appointed head coach of the Derby football program Wednesday night. He made the announcement on Twitter.
He takes over for George French, who resigned in December after leading the program to a 44-58 record over 10 seasons, including the two of the program’s first winning season since 1996.
“George did a great, great job the last 10 years and nobody works harder than George French, as far as the time he put in,” Bainer said. “But I knew, when he left, there was an opportunity for me — someone who coaches and teaches the players at the school — to take the ball and run with it, bring things in a new direction.”
— Coach Bainer (@CoachBainer) January 23, 2020
Bainer will be the first Derby football coach since Lou DeFilippo — who coached the Red Raiders from 1968-1982 and after whom the football field is named — not to have grown up in Derby. “Talk about a new tradition and a new chapter,” Bainer said.
Bainer grew up in Prospect, played football and baseball at Holy Cross of Waterbury and, while pursuing degrees at Western Connecticut, Southern Connecticut and Quinnipiac University, spent time as an assistant football coach at Holy Cross, Woodland and even Derby for two seasons under French, from 2015-16.
He was a volunteer assistant at Woodland last season. Bainer said Woodland coach Chris Moffo encouraged him to apply for the Derby job.
Bainer said he intends to take what he learned from Moffo and Chris Anderson on how to build a football program at Woodland over to Derby. With a tip of the cap to French’s tenure, Bainer says he hopes to bring renewed energy into the football program, which has won just 11 games over the last four seasons.
“I’m passionate about this,” Bainer said. “I’m passionate about what I do. Sometimes you get to point where the kids need to hear from a new voice in the room.”
With four state titles, including two during the CIAC era (the last in 1990), Derby was once one of the power programs in Connecticut. But the Raiders have since struggled stay healthy and win games as one of the state’s smallest, non-cooperative football programs. Derby’s male enrollment was 223 as of last year. Only St. Paul of Bristol’s 222 was lower.
“You’re working uphill, being smallest non-co op school in Class S and battling the numbers in football in general,” Bainer said.
But he doesn’t want to hear about what Derby’s football program can’t do.
“I don’t believe the best days of Derby football are over,” he said. “I don’t believe that at all.
“All the kids and alumni who have come through here talk about pride and tradition. It’s written in our locker rooms and it was in our old field house. I firmly believe that next chapter has to get written. There’s still a ton of talent in the school and those kids have a desire to be successful. I don’t think that Derby’s best days are behind us. There’s plenty of room to grow.”
Bainer said he’s 100 percent committed to coaching both football and baseball, and will continue to do both. He’ll begin his fifth season as the school’s baseball coach this spring. Derby recently debuted a new Leo F. Ryan sports complex, which includes a state-of-the-art turf baseball field as well as a the new turf DeFilippo football field.