FNF Week 6: Centralia surging to undefeated start after coaching switch

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CENTRALIA – While the Centralia Panthers have rolled off five straight wins to open each of the last three years, a new mentor is responsible for this season’s surge.

Jim Newsted, who had served as an assistant coach since 1998, took over for Centralia’s winningest all-time head coach Erle Bennett in the off-season.

The Panthers have found a rhythm on both sides of the ball under Newsted, forcing an average three turnovers and scoring more than 47 points per game en route to the winning streak.

“We’re going to be defensive minded and we’re going to have a strong intense offense,” Newsted said. “That’s the style we’ve had ever since I’ve been here and ever since coach Erle has been here.”

Newsted if filling in some large shoes for Bennett, who won the 2003 Class 2 state championship, won nine Clarence Cannon conference titles, and once lifted Centralia to a school-record streak of 79 straight regular season victories.

Bennett has been impressed with the energy of the football program in his first year away from the team since 1989.

“Jim knew the things that needed to be changed, and he knew the things we were doing that were working well,” Bennett said. “I think they’re playing at a really high level, and I would expect that to continue.”

Bennett said Newsted was more than qualified to replace him not only because of his previous experience as a defensive and offensive coordinator with Centralia, but also for his rapport with upperclassmen.

“To me, it was important to pass our program off in great shape to where they could be competitive,” Bennett said. “Everything I’ve ever given Jim Newsted to do, he’s improved, and it’s been very rewarding to hand it off to him.” 

Newsted believes Bennett has left a larger impact on him beyond the sport.

“Erle is my best friend, he’s my mentor, and he’s been the guy I go to all the time,” Newsted said. “He’s helped me not only to do the X’s and O’s of football, but how to work with young men and how to build character. I appreciate all of that.”

One of several tasks Newsted faces is helping Centralia out to its first conference championship since 2015.

“I’m glad the Centralia district and Erle had enough confidence in me to do this,” Newsted said. “I told them as I took the new job here, this is not a new era, it’s the same era it’s always been.”

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