Bill Hand returns to Riverside sidelines as Panthers aim to contend in MAC

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Friday, August 18, 2023 | 7:01 PM


More than two decades since the last time they had a chance to welcome their new head coach with the phrase, the Riverside football team is ready to again say, “Aloha, Mr. Hand.”

A longtime coach and teacher in the Riverside School District, Bill Hand is about to begin his second stint as head coach of the Panthers 21 years after his first stint began. Hand first coached Riverside from 2002-04.

“I decided I still have a lot of energy left in me to be a head football coach, and I teach at Riverside,” Hand said. “There’s a lot of good kids there, and I enjoy working with them. I still have the passion to get after it, so we’re excited.”

Since last leading the Panthers, Hand has been an assistant on his brother Jeff’s staff at Westminster, defensive coordinator at Riverside for three years under Ron Sciarro and defensive coordinator at New Brighton under Joe Greco.

He’s returning to the Riverside sidelines at an exciting time. After winning a total of two games the previous two seasons, the Panthers went 5-5 a year ago, going 4-3 in the Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference.

“Coach Karl Florie, he’s the one that really put the program on the map in the 80s, and Ron Sciarro did a great job. They’re the architects,” Hand said. “We want to get back to that culture of hard work and being physical and those type of things. Coach Sciarro and Coach Florie, they had the blueprint at Riverside. Hopefully we can follow in their footsteps.”

In one sense, Hand has his work cut out for him. On a roster that will include around 28 players, only six seniors return.

Fortunately for the Panthers, one of the returning players is a marquee piece of the offense: running back Robbie Janis, who ran for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

“Robbie is one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever been around,” Hand said. “He puts the time and effort in. He’s a good leader, a quiet leader, leads by example. He works extremely hard and he’s a physical kid. I think the world of him.”

The Panthers also bring back last year’s leading receiver, Brady Newman, who had 17 catches for 343 yards, and tight end Zach Hare, a key performer for Riverside’s undefeated WPIAL and PIAA champion baseball team last spring.

Ayden Garcia, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, will step in for the graduated Sam Hughes at quarterback.

“He’s worked hard in the offseason on his fundamentals,” Hand said.

Seniors Brandon Gasper and Josh Guenther return to anchor the line on both sides of the ball. On defense, Janis and Hare are top linebackers and Newman is an impact safety.

Hand will employ different X’s and O’s than his predecessor, Fran Ramsden, a new-age coach who favored a data-driven approach, but he said the players are picking up the new concepts well.

“Since we took over in January, we have started our offseason program with weights and conditioning. The kids have worked extremely hard and we’re real excited about the progress they’re making,” Hand said. “Our offensive schemes will not be the same as they’ve had in the past, but the kids are doing fine. They’ve been really attentive to detail and doing the best they can learning the new systems. I’ve got a nice staff of good guys who are working hard with the kids. It’s going fine.”

Riverside

Coach: Bill Hand

2022 results: 5-5, 4-3 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 288-247-4

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 at Rochester, 7

9.1 South Side, 7

9.8 at Shenango, 7

9.15 Mohawk*, 7

9.22 at Freedom*, 7:30

9.29 Beaver Falls*, 7

10.7 at Western Beaver*, 12:30

10.13 Neshannock*, 7

10.20 at New Brighton*, 7

10.27 Ellwood City*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Sam Hughes*

57-124, 991 yards, 5 TDs

Rushing: Robbie Janis

136-812 yards, 10 TDs

Receiving: Brady Newman

17-343 yards

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• The Panthers will have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen, Joey Reed and Jeff Weisz, as well as QB Sam Hughes, who made the first team as a punter.

• It’s been 30 years since Riverside last played in the WPIAL championship game. The Panthers lost 12-7 to Washington in 1993.

• Riverside claimed a WPIAL title in 1985, beating Swissvale, 21-15.

• Former Riverside coach Fran Ramsden, who led the Panthers the previous two seasons, is now defensive coordinator at Northgate.

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at jbombulie@triblive.com.

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