Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) coach Tony Sanchez will be named the head coach at UNLV on Thursday, becoming just the third high school coach in the last 40 years to jump directly to head coach at the highest level of college football.
Gerry Faust went from Moeller (Cincinnati) to Notre Dame in 1981 and Todd Dodge went from Carroll (Southlake, Texas) to North Texas in 2006.
Like Sanchez – who led Gorman to six consecutive Nevada state titles – Dodge helped build Carroll into an elite program with four state titles and five title-game appearances in seven years. His teams went 98-11 overall and 79-1 in his last five seasons. And like Sanchez, Dodge stayed in the same area — Southlake is about an hour from the North Texas campus in Denton – but the change in duties are worlds apart.
Dodge went 6-37 in four years at North Texas before he was fired midway through the 2010 season. He spent a year as the quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh and then returned to his roots coaching high school football in Texas. After two years at Marble Falls, he took over as coach at athletic director at Westlake High in Austin last summer, returning to where he was a three-year starter at quarterback for the Longhorns in his playing days. Westlake is perhaps best known as the alma mater of NFL quarterbacks Drew Brees and Nick Foles.
Dodge spoke to USA TODAY High School Sports this week about what he learned from making the transition from high school to college and what advice he would give Sanchez as he embarks on a similar journey.
USATHSS: Let’s start with the obvious. If you had a chance to talk to Tony Sanchez, what would you tell him?
Dodge: I would tell him definitely to be yourself and do what you do. There is definitely a comparison to what you do at the high school level that will work.
However, if I had it to do over again, I took four assistants with me off my staff and I absolutely would take them again because they deserve it, but I put two of them in coordinator positions. I don’t think that was the right thing to do – not because they’re not capable coaches, but because that’s a pretty big job.
One of the things I did at North Texas is I wanted go in and get around my players as quickly as possible and send my message and get everyone on board with the culture I wanted to create. I didn’t realize when you get to college, there are so many other people in the building that you need to get on board — academic people, strength and speed people, equipment staff, your training staff. In a lot of cases when you take a head coaching job at the Division I level, you don’t get to go in and clean house. You have to go in and educate more than just the team on the things you want to do.
I would have hired more guys who were in college at the time to help in recruiting. I was hired while I was still on the job with Carroll (Dodge coached two more games including the state title game) and I wasn’t able to do any recruiting until Carroll was over with.
USATHSS: A college coach likely gets pulled in more directions than a high school coach with appearances, media, fundraising and things that have less to do with coaching. How do you prepare for that?
Dodge: You have no idea how many different things pull at you. My four years were spent doing a lot of fundraising. I knew it would be that way and it was fine. The new stadium built there is one that I’m very proud of. I never got a chance to coach in it, but I helped get it built. I spent a lot of time on the road at fundraisers.
I was very, very involved on the offensive side of the ball. If I had to do it over, I would still be involved in the offensive side of ball, but I probably would relinquish some coaching duties to assistant coaches because you don’t know the time you will be pulled away.
The (Academic Progress Rate), that’s something that I had no idea what that was. If I had to give anything to Tony, I’d ask if he’s looked at UNLV’s APR. In my first three years at North Texas, we had 7-10 less scholarships than everyone else because of the academic situation I inherited.
When they asked me to leave in 2010 about seven games into the season, we were at an all-time high in the APR. We were able to help build a stadium and get grades where they should be. In the big picture, those things matter a lot. They don’t matter enough when you have people only caring about wins.
USATHSS: How does it change when you become a college coach going into a living room to recruit a player vs. being the high school coach looking to advise a player during the process?
Dodge: If you play your cards right, I believe you can use that you were a high school coach to your advantage. You can speak to a family as a high school coach would. There is a trust factor there immediately because you’ve coached players the caliber and age of their son very recently. That was something I really enjoyed doing, being in the living room and selling something that I believed in deeply.
ecruiting is something you did at the high school level, trying to recruit your own kids. I’m not talking about recruiting out of district or anything like that, but recruiting young men in your school to keep your program improving.
USATHSS: So, would you do it all over again?
Dodge: I’ve been asked that many times, many times in the past eight years. The answer is “Absolutely, yes.” I’ve been asked would you do it differently. There are things I would do differently, but I dang sure wouldn’t have turned it down. That opportunity doesn’t come along very often.
I don’t think there’s any way as a high school head coach that you could have been blessed with the consistent program that Tony has. I wish him all the luck in the world.