Forever Coach: Scott Yates has left his mark at Kent Denver

This article originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Scott Yates has a career winning percentage north of 80 percent.

The legendary coach at Kent Denver is sitting on 304 career wins, two shy of tying the all-time record for high school football victories in the state of Colorado.

And yet a handful of losses still eat at him.

“There are five games we lost over my career I remember very distinctly. The reason I remember them is because of my contribution to that loss. Each one of them was because I had become incensed with a call. And instead of getting off my chest what I needed to get off I didn’t let it go. From those moments on I was no longer being a good coach, I was more being a nag about the officials than I was being a good coach,” Yates says from inside the appropriately named Yates Pavilion at Kent Denver School on a cool January afternoon.

Yates started at Kent in 1981 and, other than one year at Arizona State as a grad assistant in 1988, has roamed the Sun Devils sideline ever since. And he’s won – and won big – as coach of the prestigious private school nestled in the middle of Cherry Hills Village.

His football resume can stack up with any coach at any level in the country. Yates has been named Colorado Football Conference Coach of the Year seven times, Metro League Football Coach of the year 13 times, the Denver Post Coach of the Year three times, Gatorade National Coach of the Year once and, oh yeah, has 10 career final four appearances, five state title game appearances and three state championships.

Yates could fill a trophy case to the brim and still need another one for all his hardware.

But it’s those five losses (out of just 74 in 34 years) that clearly still bother him.

“Those five games, I wish I had them all back. I don’t know if the outcome would have been different but what I do know is I wasn’t as good of a coach from that moment on in those games – after I let those bad calls get to me,” Yates says.

And here’s the most amazing part: Yates says all five losses came in 1990 or before, but they still stick with him as a teaching point.

“I consciously go into the game to this day and think we need to be better than the other team, but we also need to be better against any calls we don’t agree with. There are certainly calls that happen – heck, calls that happened this year and last year – I don’t agree with, and the film would prove that I’m right, yet had I gotten too wrapped up into them I certainly wouldn’t have been able to finish those games as a good coach,” Yates says.

A 25-year streak without letting the officials dictate his coaching or potentially costing his team a game is pretty darn good. And meanwhile the wins have been piling up too.

As mentioned, Yates is now just two victories shy of the all-time high school wins record in Colorado currently held by the revered Pat Panek (306 total) who had a legendary coaching career spanning five decades from parts of the 1930s through the 1970s. It’s a record that will almost assuredly come in the 2016 season for Yates, but there’s a catch.

Chris Brown, the coach at 8-man West Grand, who’s been in the business a long time as well, notched his 306th win during the 2015 season and plans on coaching next year and beyond too. The back and forth race could be on, but Brown thinks Yates is the leader in the clubhouse to end up with the record when it’s all said and done.

“First of all, Scott Yates is younger than I am (58-to-62) and coaching in a place where they win a lot of games,” Brown recently told Neil Devlin of the Denver Post. “He’ll blow by me like the Wyoming wind.”

It’s not that Yates would rather talk about the five losses that eat at him, as opposed to the 304 wins and eventual record, it’s just that he has a lot more to say on the losses. The wins record isn’t something he thinks about.

“If in fact that number comes, it will come and it will go. If I end up being in that conversation years from now then so be it, but to some extent I’ve kind of woken up 35 years later and am hovering in that neighborhood,” Yates says.

The numbers are an easy way to define Yates right now. It puts into perspective just how much he’s accomplished at a place he’s spent well more than half his life. But there’s a lot more to Yates than his record, and if you want him to really start talking ask him about his family and his impressive son, Richard.

But here’s the thing: The admiration from father to son is a two-way street.

***

“He likes to brag about me as much as I like to brag about him,” 23-year-old Richard Yates says about his dad from his apartment in Chicago over the phone.

The former CU football player and Kent Denver quarterback (of course) graduated from Boulder in four years with a mechanical engineering degree and now works at Coyote Logistics in The Windy City.

Even though you can’t see his face during the interview, it’s clear the youngest Yates is beaming when discussing his father, the near wins record and everything he’s accomplished.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him. He never talks about records or anything like that. He’s got more Coach of the Year trophies than I can probably count. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate them, but he doesn’t display them or anything like that. He’s always been so humble and still is. I view it all as very well deserved. The guy has put in a lifetime of work doing what he loves. Every amount of respect he gets is absolutely earned,” Richard says.

A few days earlier back at Kent, it was Scott grinning ear to ear when talking about Richard.

“As proud as I am of him I’m even more amazed at what he accomplished. He’s working in Chicago and people will say, ‘Man it’s really cold there, he’s got to be hating that.’ And I say, ‘No, not that kid.’ He was used to getting up at 5 a.m. and walking to the training center whether it was snowing or whatever up at CU and working out by 5:30. He’s just tough. He’s got that kind of grit that a little cold isn’t going to stop him. It’s just how he’s wired,” Scott says.

Scott makes sure to point out that Richard was on the All-Pac-12 Academic team multiple times while playing for the Buffs and earning a stellar 3.7 GPA in the process. Again, this was all done in a field (mechanical engineering) that chews up and spits out the majority of those brave enough to even try.

“Eh, it was probably more like a 3.5,” Richard says with a laugh when talking about his grades. But again, making sure to point out his pops is going to brag about him just as much as he will return the favor.

Regardless of what the GPA was, anything in that neighborhood is worthy of praise. And while that praise keeps coming from Richard regarding his father, the million-dollar question looms: Will he be a coach some day?

“Absolutely. I can’t wait to get started in some capacity. I don’t know what it will be yet. I got a different degree than anyone in my family has ever pursued and I kind of want to test that and see where it might take me, but part of my career plan is going to have to include being able to coach,” Richard says.

Not only is his dad an iconic coach, but Richard’s late grandfather Dick (Scott’s father) is a legend when it comes to Colorado prep coaching, being inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 before his passing in 2010.

The youngest Yates got his taste of the coaching life this past spring and summer when he helped out his dad as Kent prepared for the 2015 football season. Richard primarily worked with the corners and safeties during summer and fall camp before he departed for his job in Chicago. He says the experience was unreal.

“Even the small taste of it when I was able to devote some time was awesome. Whether I’m any good at it we’ll see, but it’s something that I’m passionate about just the same as my dad is and my grandpa was. It’s kind of a family thing, but it’s not like it’s been forced on me at all. No one in my family has pushed it on me; it’s kind of something I’ve naturally gravitated toward. I like to look at my dad and see how many people’s lives he’s positively affected and I’d kind of like to at least take a step in that direction and see what I can do,” Richard says.

It’s a step his older sister and Scott’s daughter, Alyssa, has taken already, as well. The 2008 Kent Denver graduate is back at the old stomping grounds as an assistant coach for the varsity girl’s basketball team.

“Coming from this family you could say I was destined to work in education and be a coach,” Alyssa says.

When her brother Richard will get into coaching remains to be seen, but it’s definitely a “when” – not an “if.” And could Kent Denver be that place? Regardless of whether it is or not, the Yates name will live on that campus for a long time.

***

The 16,000-plus square foot Yates Pavilion might be the most stunning building on a campus chock full of them at Kent Denver.

It officially opened in the fall of 2014 when the main feature of the structure, the beautiful gym that holds around 2,000 people and could rival any high school hardwood haven in Colorado, hosted a girl’s volleyball game. The project, depending on whom you talk with, cost well north of $2 million and appears to be worth every penny.

In addition to the gym, it has two full-sized practice courts, locker rooms, team rooms, officials’ rooms, a glowing lobby and an area for concessions. The plan is also in place to put in a golf simulator this spring, so that if the weather is too soggy outside, the girl’s golf team has a place to practice.

So what was Scott Yates’ reaction to having one of the crown jewels on Kent’s campus named after him? It’s partially what you’d think, but also one emotion that almost certainly wouldn’t come to mind.

“Obviously I’m honored folks would deem it a fitting name to represent the time and effort I’ve put into the school. So I’m very honored by that, and yet there’s a part of it that’s embarrassing. I say that to some people and they say, ‘What? Why?’ I come to school every day and there are great teachers here that are doing everything they can to help these kids in their journey toward college. I just happen to be working in a high-profile component of this place. Even at faculty meetings when people say a certain event is going to be held at the Yates Pavilion I think, ‘Why me?’ I really think a lot of great folks here are also worthy of acknowledgement and recognition,” Yates says.

Richard, meanwhile, didn’t want to age his father, but thought it was kind of funny something was named after his old man while he was still at Kent. He also provided sharp perspective on the significance of the name of a building that’s going to stand on Kent’s campus for decades to come.

“I said, ‘They usually name things after people after the fact.’ They usually name something after people when they retire or whatever,” Richard says with a laugh. “But it’s something that’s going to be proof of the mark he’s left on that particular community for awhile. Beyond the intangible proof of the lives he’s touched that building is kind of the physical proof that’s going to be there forever.”

And while forever’s a long time, it’s unlikely any of us will be around when the Yates Pavilion comes down. The rock solid structure will almost certainly outlive anyone reading these words.

Scott Yates’ final football record, whatever it ends up, will also go down in history books, well, forever. And while those five losses he wants back may always stick with him, so will the 300- (400-?) plus wins he ultimately tallies.

It may be just a final number, but what that number symbolizes is something that can’t be counted.

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