Many times, an athletic program will take on the personality – the character – of its head coach. That was certainly true of the Palmyra football program.
Chris Pope always got the most out of himself. And not only did Pope always get the most out of the Palmyra football program, the Cougars always got the most out of themselves.
Pope resigned recently as the head football coach at Palmyra. In his wake, he leaves behind a legacy of overachieving and maximizing talent, a handful of irreplaceable lifetime memories and a football program better than he found it.
“For the most part, every year that was one of our trademarks,” said Pope, of improving as the season went along. “And I think that was true this year. We worked hard, tried to get better every week and re-evaluated. You can’t stop working and you’ve got to instill that mindset into your players. As coaches you have to ask yourselves, ‘Do we have them in the best possible places to succeed?’ You want to tweak things with the personnel you have.
“I think how they will be remembered is important to everybody,” continued Pope. “I hope I’m remembered as a good coach who positively influenced the people around me – my assistant coaches and my players. I think we made the community of Palmyra a better place, and hopefully I had something to do with that. Hopefully, I left the program a little better than I found it.”
Pope emphasized that he has resigned – not retired – after the Cougars went 5-5 this fall. There is only one element that possesses the power to pull people like Pope away from the sports that they are passionate about coaching – family.
“I have two children in high school, and at the end of the last couple of years I’ve always looked where I’m at,” said Pope. “I’ve probably been delaying the inevitable. I just felt like I didn’t want to look back and realize I missed out on some things. The season is so rigorous, I tried to keep it out of my mind. I really got looking at it at the end of the season.
“I love Palmyra. There was nothing negative about this whole thing at all,” added Pope. “I’m really thankful for the opportunity. I just felt like I wouldn’t be able to get this time back. It was very difficult and I took the decision very seriously. I felt like I looked at it from all angles.”
Pope was the Cougars’ head coach for 14 years and it seems like Palmyra always won more games than it lost. During his tenure, the Cougars qualified for the District Three playoffs a number of times, including 2011, when Pope may have assembled his best team.
“I think the thing I’ll remember most are just the relationships I had with everybody,” said Pope, who’s been coaching football for 25 years overall. “A lot of our former players have their own families now, and I’ll cherish the whole community of Palmyra itself. I’ll just remember the whole experience and the relationships built over time.
“I had a great time at Palmyra, I really did,” Pope continued. “It’s going to be a positive part of my life when I look back on it. It almost feels like I’m closing a chapter of my life. I enjoyed the whole experience. I’m thankful I was able to do it there.”
As head coach, Pope took over for Don Fureman in 2007. Pope grew up in Hershey, played under the Trojans’ legendary head coach Bob ‘Gump’ May, who later became Pope’s assistant, and played for head coach Jim Monos at Lebanon Valley College.
“When I came here, it was under Joe Buehler,” said Pope. “Then Don took over for four years. When he decided to step out of it, I remember talking to my wife and she said, ‘You should apply for this.’ We were just starting out. I ended up applying for it and getting the job.
“One of the biggest things as an assistant coach is that I had other interests,” Pope added. “When you become the head coach, you need to focus on the program, but you also have your family and teaching, which is your job. I don’t know if anyone is ever ready to take on a head coaching position. It’s so difficult and there are a lot of things that go into it. I was really fortunate to surround myself with really good, competent assistants.”
Pope, 52, teaches physics and chemistry at Milton Hershey school. He and his wife Beci live in Elizabethtown with their two children.
“I think I gravitated towards football because I played it when I was younger, and I liked the team aspect of it,” said Pope. “I really like the defensive mentality and the physicality of it, and the remarkable feeling you get with having success. I think the accountability and the team aspect drew me to it.
“I see it more as resigning at Palmyra than retiring,” concluded Pope. “As time passes, I might want to look at it again, somewhere, sometime. I talked to the athletic director and the administration about it, and they’re open to that. I just felt at this moment I needed to take a step back and spend time with my family. I love coaching. I think I’ll definitely end up coaching in some capacity in the future. But I’m not sure it will be as a head coach.”