Friday Night Lights
Todd Dodge has maintained and enhanced the longstanding tradition at Southlake (TX) Carroll High
|A Friday night game at Southlake Carroll High|
COACH: Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?DODGE: I grew up in Port Arthur, which is along the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s a town of about 80,000. My father, Don, is a Methodist Minister, so I moved around from about the time I was about 3 years old until high school. I was a typical preacher’s kid, moving about every four years.
COACH: Where did you attend high school? What sports did you play?
DODGE: We moved to Port Arthur, the town I call home, when I was in seventh grade. I stayed there until I graduated from Port Arthur Thomas Jefferson High School, lettering in three sports: I was a baseball, track, and football guy. I played quarterback. My team went to the state finals my senior year. We threw the ball a lot for a high school football team – 30-35 times a game. At one point I held every passing record there was in the state of Texas. They’ve all been broken since.
COACH: Your spread offense has been called everything from innovative to wild. Southlake Carroll set a Class 5A record with 764 points last season. Can you expound upon your offensive philosophy and the system you have in place?
DODGE: I’ve been in the spread offense since about 1989, when I was the offensive coordinator at McKinney (TX) High School. When we put that offense in, it was kind of a hybrid between the University of Houston’s Run & Shoot and the U. of Miami under Dennis Erickson back in the late 1980’s, with their running game. We’ve evolved through the years with a tight end attached, then about seven or eight years ago we stopped using the tight end. So we’ve essentially been a four wide receiver team.
The thing about our offense is through the years – all the way back to when I played at Port Arthur – is that we spread the ball around to a lot of different people. For example, this past season, the four wide receiver positions saw a lot of footballs. The X receiver had 99 catches. The A receiver, which is one of our slots, had 99 catches. The other slot had about 60 catches. And the other outside receiver had about 70 receptions. The running back position had 40 catches. That’s been kind of the norm over the years. We’ve always tried to be hard to defend with our personnel. That’s something that makes us unique. We’re constantly trying to get the ball into a lot of different people’s hands. Because you never know from week to week how someone is going to try and defend you and try and take away what you do best. We always want to be able to go in a different direction if something is taken away.
We went to the no-huddle four years ago. It was a great transition for my kids here at Southlake Carroll because we were already in the offense. We didn’t change offenses. All we did was introduce hand signals, making the calls from the sideline, and sending the plays in via messenger. We’re 63-1 since using no-huddle. So it’s an understatement to say it’s been a good addition.
Over the last four years, when we’ve gone to the last four State championships, our quarterback has rushed for over 1,300 yards and the running back has rushed for over 1,500 yards in each of those seasons. The quarterbacks have also thrown for more than 4,500 yards each year. We get labeled as a team that’s just throwing the football, 40-45 times a game. That is not necessarily true.
COACH: You have a knack for developing quarterbacks. We understand your last three QB’s have garnered All-State and Player of the Year honors. How important is the QB position in your offense? How much freedom does the QB have in the system?
DODGE: The last four years our quarterback has been the Texas Offensive Player of the Year. In 2002, it was a kid named Chase Wasson. He’ll be the starting quarterback at Texas State this season. In 2003-04, it was Chase Daniel and he’ll be the starter at Missouri next year. And last year it was Greg McElroy. He will be a freshman at Alabama. We won a state championship with all three of them. All three kids have been guys who were very, very accurate. In 2002, Wasson set the state record for touchdown passes with 54. McElroy broke that record this past season with 56. Over the last four years, they held six of the top passing performances in the history of Texas high school football.
Ours is not a quarterback audibling system. It’s more stuff that comes from the sidelines. I think the one thing our offense does is it allows our quarterback to be a free flow guy.
COACH: Your son, Riley, who will be a junior in the fall, is next in line. Now your relationship with your signal caller will be different. How do you separate being father and son for the sake of the team?
DODGE: It’s a challenge. I have a lot of great coaching colleagues of mine in the state of Texas that have coached their sons at the quarterback position. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from them. A real good mentor of mine from over the years told me to “Make sure that you understand that you are the two most important people in his life: you’re his father and his coach. Don’t rob him of any one of them.” And that made a lot of sense to me, because if you’re not careful as a dad-coach, you can be way too hard on your son. We’ve kind of already been through that. Last spring, when he was a freshman, during spring football practice, I think I had to kind of go through that time frame where I was probably a little unfair to him, to be honest. I then sat back and asked myself if I would have ever treated my previous quarterbacks – Wasson, Daniel, and McElroy – like this. And the answer was absolutely not.
COACH: You played quarterback for Fred Akers at the U. of Texas from 1981-85, so you have an intimate knowledge of how vital the position is. What is the single most important thing a player needs in order to play the position successfully?
DODGE: I think it’s the ability to make others feel good about themselves. It’s leadership, but it’s more than that. You have to be stable enough and confident enough in your own ability to constantly encourage other people. Second, you have to be a distributor of the football. And that’s being accurate. They go hand in hand. I just don’t think you can have a team that can be as good as it can possibly be if their quarterback is a jerk, if he’s not respected.
COACH: The book, and subsequent movie, Friday Night Lights opened a lot of eyes as to how much high school football is a religion in Texas. Did the story convey the real-life trials and tribulations of football in the Longhorn State?
DODGE: Every movie takes a little bit of liberty, especially if it’s depicting a true story. I had a hard time with it because I’ve grown up in Texas and I’ve played the game at the high school level. I’ve coached it for 20 years at the high school level. I know Odessa Permian football from the outside looking in pretty well. My high school football team lost to Permian in the 1981 State Championship game. There were a lot of things that Hollywood depicted that absolutely don’t happen. The Tim McGraw role where he went out onto the field and grabbed his son by the facemask is not going to happen.
Now, the thing I think it did depict properly is the pressure that high school players endure in towns that are very, very passionate about their football. That came out pretty clear. A lot of times, the unrealistic expectations from the townspeople can be overbearing. I think it’s real important in high school football to make sure that the expectations are coming from the field house and not the outside. It’s important and vital for a high school coach to shelter his players to a certain extent.
COACH: How do you feel about playing travel games? Are you a proponent of this developing trend of inter-state powerhouses playing one another? Is it more than just a matter of state pride on the line? What do the kids get out of it?
DODGE: I’m not a fan of it because of the nature of high school football in the state of Texas. We can’t get real hung up on going out of state and playing these national games. As soon as we do, we’re going to get our heads knocked off by somebody 10 miles away. I can understand how teams in other states maybe want to do it, but there are 245 5A high schools in Texas. The competition is unbelievable. That said, we are going to play teams outside the state of Texas. But in both cases they are coming here. At this point in the development of our program, I would not take our team outside Texas to play a game.
COACH: Can you confirm a rumor that Southlake will be playing De La Salle in the near future?
DODGE: We will. This season we’re hosting Evangel Christian of Shreveport, LA at our stadium. And next season we’re playing De La Salle at Southern Methodist U.
COACH: What are your team rules and what is your take on disciplinary action, when need be?
DODGE: I don’t have a whole lot of team rules. We don’t even have a rule board listed in our field house. Basically I believe you should just treat people the right way. We’re constantly talking to our kids about being encouragers of other people. We talk to our kids about the schizophrenic nature of football, meaning in the hallways, when you’re dealing with the assistant principals, with female teachers, and the young ladies in school, you’re the perfect gentleman. But when you step between the white lines for practice or on Friday nights, you turn into a different personality. I think sometimes in our society we have that backwards. Everybody wants to compete off the field; they want to be the big dog. But off the field, they won’t bite a biscuit. We explain to our kids the importance of keeping it all in perspective.
Most of the time, any kind of discipline things we have to deal with will be taken care of by the principal first. If it’s a drug or alcohol offense, we have a zero tolerance policy in our school. For an alcohol offense, there is a 30-day suspension for all extra-curricular activities. After the fact, then I have to make a decision as to whether or not that child is going to stay with our program. But each situation is a little bit different.
COACH: As you are probably aware, there was a near-tragic event that took place in April, 2005, when former Canton (TX) High School athletic/director football coach Gary Kinne was shot by an irate parent of a player. What kind of experience, if any, have you had with a hostile and volatile parent? How did you or would you handle the confrontation?
DODGE: I haven’t had anything close to that, nothing. Gary is a close friend of mine. He and I coached together at the U.S. Army All-America game this past year. He’s now the linebacker coach at Baylor University. One thing that I do that is so vital for communication is we hold two real big what we call “family meetings,” where all the parents, players, and coaches in our program attend. We’ll have 400-500 in our cafeteria and basically talk about the expectations and goals of our program and go over our handbook. I have a policy with our program that has pretty much worked during my six years as the head coach and that’s an open door policy with parents. When you’re a high school football coach, there’s a partnership between you and the parents on helping raise that child. I definitely want our parents to know that I am approachable and willing to help their child in any way that I can. There are two things that I have set straight in all my years coaching that I will not discuss with a parent. Those are: playing time or someone else’s child. Usually that heads off about 90% of what people want to talk about.
COACH: You have coached on the collegiate level, serving as the offensive coordinator/receivers coach at North Texas State in 1992-93. We know you were contacted for the Rice U. job before Todd Graham was hired. Do you have any further aspirations of being a college head coach?
DODGE: When I coached in college I loved those two years. I loved the focus of the players and the competition of the recruiting. So yes, I do have a desire to return to that level, someday. Now, when that happens, I don’t know. The way things work in our state, we’re all pretty much under one-year contracts. As long as that goes on, you pretty much pour yourself into every year and when the year is over, you evaluate any opportunities that come your way and you either take them or you don’t. Then you pour yourself into the next year. I was once told to make sure you spend your time doing your job and not trying to get the next job. That’s been my philosophy.
COACH: Bill Parcells paid you the ultimate compliment recently when he asked you to interview for the Dallas Cowboys tight end coach’s job. You grew up a big Cowboy fan. Would you have taken the job if it were offered? Is being a pro coach something you would still entertain?
DODGE: Yes, I would have taken it had it been offered. And yes, I would entertain the opportunity if it came up again. It was interesting during that four-five day window when the whole process was taking place. I told all of my assistant coaches, “I’ve known you all a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with any of you about my desire to coach in the NFL.” So that’s not something that has really been in my plans, but it obviously was in God’s plans for me to at least visit. It was an awesome opportunity. In a way, it was a surreal opportunity. I had never met Bill Parcells. It was one of the most enjoyable five or six hours that I’ve ever spent, as far as visiting with him and then getting the chance to meet with the rest of the coaching staff. It was a real positive experience.
COACH: Who are some of your coaching influences?
DODGE: Ronnie Thompson, who was my high school coach. He’s the reason I’m in it. I think everybody in coaching can point to one or two guys and say he’s my original influence. A guy named Ron Poe. He was the head coach at McKinney High School, here in the Dallas area, for 30 years. I coached for him for six years, from 1986 through 1991, around that time frame. He had a tremendous influence on me as far as how to develop a program. Dennis Parker, the guy I worked for at the U. of North Texas, was a big influence on me. And there’s been a lot of guys who I haven’t worked for who I have always observed and admired. As a young man, I always made sure I made it to their lectures at the latest clinic. I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Mariucci. To me, he was one of the best quarterback coaches – as far as a teacher at that position – that I’d ever heard speak. As a young coach I used a lot of the same drills he used when he was coaching Brett Favre with the Packers.
COACH: You are big-time clinician, hosting your own quarterback/receiver camp each summer. What do you enjoy about teaching the position? How demanding is that on your time and how are you able to balance your personal life?
DODGE: My real passion is coaching quarterbacks. I’m hosting the 15th Annual Todd Dodge Quarterback/Wide Receiver Camp this summer. I started it when I was at North Texas and never in my wildest dreams guessed we’d still be going after 15 years and we’d have over 350 campers last summer. I love the camaraderie between quarterbacks and wide receivers. That’s one of the things that Ronnie Thompson helped instill in me.
My wife, Elizabeth, grew up the daughter of a high school football coach, so she understands the time restraints. Her dad, Ebbie Neptune, was the longtime AD and football coach at Austin (TX) Westlake High. He retired two years ago.
COACH: Talk about the success you have had at Southlake. The program has gone 63-1 with three Class 5A Division II state titles over the past four seasons. What are the keys to developing and maintaining a winning program and tradition?
DODGE: It started with holding on to the traditions and things that came before me. There was success that went on here before myself and my staff ever got here. I think it was important for us to acknowledge that and to make sure that we discovered the things that were important, tradition-wise, to this town and is this program. Bob Ledbetter was the athletic director when I first came to Southlake Carroll. He hired me. He had been the head football coach from 1979 until 1995. They won three state championships under his watch, at the 3A level. As a coach, if you’re not careful, sometimes you want to put your stamp on everything so fervently that you don’t respect what came before you.
How we keep it going is we have a great group of kids. We have a great feeder program with a lot of participation from two junior high schools. We start developing our quarterbacks at the seventh grade level with our quarterback-training program. We run the same offense, defense, and special teams at the seventh grade level up to the varsity program. I get to hire all of the football coaches so there’s a lot of continuity.