Columbia, SC (WLTX) — Dutch Fork head coach Tom Knotts has been to the state finals at all four schools where he has been in charge. Three of the schools – West Charlotte, Independence and Dutch Fork – have won championships.
After winning one state championship at West Charlotte, Knotts captured seven straight during a stretch at Independence High School, also in Charlotte.
But at Dutch Fork, Knotts took over a program that had a modest playoff history at best and in three years, took the Silver Foxes to the state championship finals where they lost to Gaffney.
The following season, Dutch Fork broke through with a win over Sumter in the 4A Division I state championship game. It was the first title in the history of the program and now, Knotts has Dutch Fork back in the finals for the third straight year.
Knotts says he didn’t come to Dutch Fork to make friends and he admits he rubbed some people the wrong way. When he arrived in Irmo, he told his staff during the early part of summer, before the preseason kicked off, the coaching staff would work Monday through Thursday and take Friday off. Knotts thought he was pretty generous giving the coaches a three-day weekend.
“Three of the guys got up and left,” Knotts said. “They said ‘We’re not working during the summer (before football practice starts)'”.
But Knotts found some coaches who were willing to work during the summer and five years later, the Tom Knotts philosophy has Dutch Fork on the verge of back-to-back state championships.
Knotts has told his players that he considers himself a “negative coach.’ That approach is to make his players as umcomfortable as possible whether its through detailed film study, an emphasis on strength and conditioning or long and demanding practices.
“i’ve always had the thought that comfort destroys progress,” Knotts said. “So, sometimes, on purpose, I try to make people feel uncomfortable so they will buckle down and listen to me and do more of what I want.”
With a track record of success in his 30+ years in the business, Knotts says teams who want to pay the price embrace his style of coaching which is more than simply demanding excellence.
“I think there’s a level of trust where I can jump down their throat one minute and the next minute tell them I think they’re a great football player, a great kid, a great student athlete.
“I think there’s a method to my madness.”
Dutch Fork’s Shrine Bowl duo of Lane Ecton and Matt Colburn say playing for Knotts has been a challenge but the results show it works.
“We can win how many ever games, but if we’re not playing in a good fashion, it just grinds his gears to the point where he just has to let it out,” said Colburn, a finalist for Mr. Football.
“He’s always calls himself a negative coach,” said Dutch Fork linebacker Lane Ecton.
“Which is true. It’s helped us a lot, actually. It’d be cool to have a postive coach who shows you all the good things you do. But having a negative coach, it humbles you. It lmakes you realize the things you are doing bad you can improve on.”
Knotts admits his style is not for every player or assistant coach – both groups are expected to meet his expectations.
“its hard for me to be positive all the time because I see tso many things we’re not doing that aren’t up to my standards so I tend to point them out.”
However, Knotts adds that any criticism a player receieves should be taken as a compliment.
“I ‘m always telling the kids, if I don’t point them out, then you’re probably not in good standing with me. I don’t have that high opinion of you.
” I’ve got a very high opinion of this team.”
if Dutch Fork defeats Hillcrest Saturday, Knotts’ opinion of his team will reach even greater heights.