Although he relocated nearly 1,000 miles south, Don Grinstead never really got Pennsylvania high school football out of his system.
Now, he’s got the chance to immerse himself in it once again.
Grinstead was approved to become Phoenixville’s next head football coach, the school board announced on Thursday night.
“Sometimes you don’t know how attached you are somewhere, until you leave it,” said Grinstead, who moved from Phoenixville to DeLand, Fla., in 2015 for work purposes. “After two years here (in Fla.), I realized how much I missed it there (in Phoenixville).”
Prior to the move down south, Grinstead spent three seasons coaching at Pottstown High School, where he brought on a Trojans rebirth during the 2015 season. He was 3-20 during his first two years at the helm, then closed out his final season with a 7-5 overall record as Pottstown earned its first district playoff berth since 2002.
A Dayton, Ohio native and Eastern Kentucky graduate, Grinstead spent four years there as a video technician after graduation before serving a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator for the semi-pro Dayton Drive. He then served as the defensive line coach at Great Valley in 2009, and became the Patriots’ defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the next three seasons before coming to Pottstown in 2013.
While in Florida, he spent this past season as a defensive coach with Atlantic High School.
Now on his way back to Pennsylvania, he’s looking to build on a similar identity to the one he’d spent a couple years establishing at Pottstown.
“When I got to Pottstown, it was a program that didn’t have a real foundation,” said Grinstead. “They’d had a couple decent seasons here and there, but they were just seasons. What we tried to do was build of foundation of what we’d require out of every kid to build that program.
“Not every kid can go on that type of journey with you. Those kids at Pottstown really took to that and held each other accountable. I want to bring that same accountability to Phoenixville.”
Grinstead takes over a Phoenixville program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2012 and hasn’t made districts since 2013. The Phantoms are 13-42 overall during the past five seasons, fresh off a 3-8 finish this past fall.
His hiring comes nearly two-and-a-half months after Evan Breisblatt’s four-year tenure with the program came to an end in November.
“We’re gonna try and build this program in a way that’s appropriate and necessary for Phoenixville,” said Grinstead, who had been a Phoenixville resident for eight years. “We want to put together a group of people that care about each other, that care about the town, that care about the high school. We’re looking for kids that will play for each other every time they’re on the field.”
Grinstead will have an array of talented seniors returning next fall.
Quarterback Connor Patania put together a solid junior season where he racked up 14 total touchdowns, including a four-touchdown performance against Pope John Paul II. Running back Travis Panella finished fifth in the league with 912 rushing yards and seven TDs while paired alongside classmate Alex Washington, who finished with 366 rushing yards and seven scores.
Vowing to stick with what works best with his personnel, Grinstead plans to bring a physical brand of football with him.
“Offensively, it’ll be a variation game, kind of like we did at Pottstown,” he said. “We’ll get some option game, some power game, a little spray game. We’ll do whatever our kids allow us to do. Ideally, we’ll be 70-30 run-to-pass, but if a game calls for us to be 70-30 pass-to-run, we’ll do that too. We’ll do whatever the game dictates.”
In his return to the Pioneer Athletic Conference, Grinstead will experience a much more balanced schedule, one he hadn’t had the luxury of facing during his time at Pottstown. Following the 2015 season, the PAC split into two divisions — Liberty (larger schools) and Frontier (smaller schools) — with the addition of Norristown and Upper Merion.
So rather than face a school that doubles their roster six times a season, the smaller programs match up against one another in addition to non-league opponents throughout the regular season.
“I’m looking forward to playing schools that are like us and like the size of ours week in and week out,” Grinstead said. “Of course, we want to be competitive, we want to play the best teams and strive to be our best. But it will be nice to be up against teams that are our size.
“I’m really proud of the administrators, athletic directors and coaches for making that decision. It is definitely in the best interest of the kids and the schools.”
Another unique element Grinstead will get to face each season will be squaring off against both of his old Pennsylvania teams.
The Phantoms open up each season with the ‘Route 29 Series’ game against Great Valley, where he got his kicks as an assistant in his early years. He and Phoenixville also face his old Pottstown squad each year, as the two teams are pitted in the Frontier Division.
“It will definitely bring back some emotions for me,” he said. “I have a fairly tight bond with a lot of kids that played for me. My loyalty is to my players. While I’m switching colors and switching communities, I’m always going to have that bond to all of them, both current and former players.”