When legendary Benicia High baseball coach Jim Bowles retired last spring after 16 seasons managing the varsity Panthers, finding his replacement was a no-brainer.
Assistant coach Eliot Palmer, a former Panthers player and 2001 BHS graduate, was promoted to succeed Bowles as manager. It’s the first head coaching job for Palmer, a Bowles protégé and a natural fit for the Panthers.
“He played, coached and learned with our program,” Athletic Director Craig Holden said of Palmer. “It felt like a good transition to bring him in and continue the success that we’ve had. We’ll turn things over to him and let him run with it.”
“I’m excited for this journey,” Palmer said. “I grew up in this community and it’s given a lot to me.”
Palmer was a middle infielder when Bowles first took over as manager of the Panthers in 2001 and later played college baseball for Azusa Pacific. He’s spent the past decade as an assistant coach under Bowles and currently teaches history and geography at the high school. Palmer is also an assistant coach for the girls varsity basketball team.
“He’s a smart guy, he’s hard-working and he’s organized,” Bowles said. “To be a head coach of a varsity program, handling all of the administrative duties is the toughest part. That’s what burned me out and he’s very skilled at handling all that.”
Palmer has big shoes to fill. Bowles led the Panthers to four Sac-Joaquin Section championships – including last season – and 11 league championships. Bowles was elated to learn Palmer would inherit his legacy.
“I was hoping he’d be the guy who would succeed me,” Bowles said. “He’s been a huge part of our program as a coach. I couldn’t have done what I did as a head coach without him. He was invaluable, especially the last couple of years. I leaned on him more and he took on more responsibility and he handled it very well. We have the same philosophy and we’re in synch with each other, but he’ll bring his own flair and his own personality to the position.”
Succeeding a legend can come with some pressure, but Palmer isn’t worried.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say it’s my job to fill his shoes,” Palmer said. “He did what he did and the stamp he left on the program was absolutely amazing. There can be a lot of pressure because you’re expected to be successful right out of the gate. It’s not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of work and commitment. But it’s a great challenge and I’m looking forward to that challenge.
“My big thing is to maintain as much of that culture as I can and add my touches to the program. My focus is trying to continue what’s been done as best as I can.”
“He’s personable and the kids aren’t afraid to talk to him,” Holden noted.
“The kids love him and respect him,” Bowles said. “He truly cares about the kids he works with and coaches. I knew when I resigned that I didn’t have control over who they hired. I was just hoping whoever they hired would treat the kids really well and I’m extremely excited that they chose Eliot. I think the kids will reward him the same way they rewarded me.”
Baseball practice begins Feb. 6.