The gang is getting back together at Wilson.
A few key figures on the Warriors’ 2006 state champion football team are joining forces again, led by new head coach Chris Labatch, who was approved by the district’s school board Monday night.
Labatch, who was an all-state linebacker on that squad, is coming back home to lead his alma mater.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed of doing,” Labatch said. “This is just an opportunity that presented itself and I had to take it.”
This is Labatch’s first head coach position after previously serving as Saucon Valley’s defensive coordinator, helping guide the Panthers to the 2015 Class AAA semifinal, and as an assistant at Palisades before that.
Labatch’s older brother, Eddie, will be joining him on his staff, also coming over from Saucon Valley.
“One of the first people I talked to before I took a head coaching job was my brother, to make sure that he’d be with me,” Labatch said. “He’s been with me for everything. I was his manager when he played, he coached when I played, he was my coach in football and wrestling. Me and both of my brothers, the bond between us is unbelievable and we get that from our parents.”
MORE: Senneca resigns as Wilson football coach
Labatch had family and friends in attendance Monday night as he was officially approved by the school board.
Another big part of the 2006 state title squad could be coming back as well. Labatch said he is talking with former Warriors all-state quarterback DJ Lenehan – who was also with him as a quarterbacks/cornerbacks coach at Saucon Valley – about a spot on the Wilson staff.
Together, Labatch and Lenehan helped the Warriors beat Terrelle Pryor-led Jeannette in the 2006 state championship.
“You talk about football memories, that’s something that you’ll never forget,” Labatch said. “But it’s more of the relationships you built with people. People don’t coach for anything else but the relationships. The reason I became a coach is because of the effect they had on me.
“I can go back and think of all the coaches that I’ve had – my father, coach Jimmy Klass, Bret Comp, Matt Evancho, I coached with Jimmy Brady and then these last couple years at Saucon, even though they weren’t head coaches, they had a big effect – Ed Chromczak, Phil Sams. Those guys meant so much to me, just teaching me the right way to do things.”
Labatch had a tough decision to make in December, when over the course of a few days, both Saucon Valley head coach Matt Evancho and Wilson head coach Matt Senneca stepped down from their respective posts.
Labatch said Monday night he “absolutely” thought about applying for the Saucon Valley job, but after sitting down and talking about his future with his family, he ultimately decided to go back to his old stomping grounds.
“You have a sense of pride of being here,” Labatch said. “You walk down the hallway, it’s the same smell, all that kind of stuff that goes through our head. There’s a sense of tradition here because of what I’ve built under coach Comp and everything like that. That was a huge part of this and it made my choice a little bit easier in the end.”
Now, Labatch is tasked with turning around the program as he tries to bring it back to the standard it was when he played there.
The Warriors’ record over the past five years – two under Senneca and three under Bret Comp, who coached Labatch and his teammates to the state title – is 8-42.
“It’s going to take hard work,” Labatch said. “Everyone knows the talent is what you got in these schools – it’s homegrown talent, as coach Evancho said last year. But hard work can make a one-win season into a five-win season. I told the kids, our goal is to overachieve every year. If they expect us to have two wins, I want to have six. If they expect us to be 9-1, I expect us to go undefeated and win a championship.”
Labatch said the first step is getting his players in the weight room, and then once the staff and its positions are settled, they’ll start installing the offense and defense.
As of Monday night, Labatch said his staff was still coming together but it will include of his brother, Herm Stein, Scott Baltz, Vincent Spino and Matt Lippincott.
While the head coaching experience will be new to him, Labatch has been soaking up knowledge from coaches like Comp and Evancho.
“You don’t have two better role models,” Labatch said. “Coach Comp with the discipline, the way he taught us how to do things, and then coach Evancho with the preparation and being in relationship with the kids – the things I’ve learned from those two individuals stick with me. They’re both like my fathers growing up, so I can’t ask for anything better.”
Now, it’s Labatch’s job to use all that experience to turn around the program he once helped elevate – this time from the sideline.
“Being at Wilson, it’s like second nature,” he said. “You know where to be, when to be there. I know that hallway down by the coaches’ office better than most. I know things that I want to change and things that I want to bring back and I think that’s the best way to go about it.”
Greg Joyce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GJoyce9. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.