Kevin Wright expected Carmel High School in Indiana to be the last stop in a lifetime of coaching football.
But three weeks ago, he began conversations with IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for what is perhaps the most unique high school coaching job in America.
“When my wife (Elizabeth) and I first talked, she said something that stuck with me. We’re a little bit different. She’s a coach’s wife and she said, ‘Who wouldn’t do everything they could to get an opportunity to attend a school like that?’ ” Wright told USA TODAY High School Sports.
With the prospect of what coaching at IMG could mean for his own 13-year-old and 9-year old and what he could bring to the growing program, Wright said goodbye to Indiana again and accepted. He is expected to move to Bradenton by the middle of the month.
The son of the winningest high school coach in Indiana state history, Wright had led an impressive run of success at Warren Central in Indianapolis, left the state to coach at Tulsa Union and then was the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.
He returned to Indiana at Carmel five years ago and posted a 54-11 record with a state championship and two runner-up finishes.
At IMG, Wright will work with former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Steve Walsh, who was named director of football. They replace Chris Weinke, who left to become the quarterbacks coach of the St. Louis Rams. Weinke held both roles in the first two years of the varsity football program but IMG officials felt the need to split the job into two.
Wright spoke with USA TODAY High School Sports about his vision for the program and more:
Q: What made the job attractive to you?
A: I’ve grown up in a football family. Watching my dad’s career and seeing why he’s been successful, one of the reasons is he’s been able to develop players. You have to take kids and get them to believe in themselves and each other. To be successful year in and year out, you’re always starting over. With IMG, I felt like this a very unique situation. It’s all about player development, not playing for state championships. You’re truly trying to develop players.
After touring campus, and adding in the academic piece with the athletic piece and the leadership piece and it’s very attractive to a dad for my own kids to go to a place like that. That’s the driving force, being a dad and seeing what IMG offers and being around not just the football players, but elite student athletes from across the world and their ability to interact with them on campus.
All those things are outside the realms of football, so to speak, but as a parent those are things that I look at. The ability to work with other people’s kids in that setting is truly a great opportunity for me and a great feeling. When you’re talking about IMG, it’s a boarding school with a lot of kids who are 15, 16, 17 who are living on their own in a college setting.
We felt like it was a great opportunity to down there and create a family type atmosphere and add to what Chris and (interim coach E.G. Green) have already done. We want to put arm around those kids and let them know we’re there for them. The old phrase is “We’re all we got, but we’re all we need. It’s that type of mentality for developing student athletes.
Q: Will it require a different mindset for you in terms of not playing for a state championship and not worrying as much about wins and losses?
A: I’ve always preached to my kids that winning and losing will take care of itself if the process is done correctly and you take great pride in the details along the way. You can’t say winning is not important because of course winning is important. That’s why they keep score. But you have to keep to the process. The process is always the same. That’s where I’m coming from.
The thing at IMG, as the program grows, what you’re seeing is we play more of a national schedule. We want to challenge those kids to get on an airplane two or three times a year and go play an opponent on their field in front of a hostile crowd. We want to win them all, but we play a rigorous schedule that is set up to prepare those kids for what they’re going to see down the line.
For many schools, the ultimate goal is the playoffs. That’s not our ultimate goal. Ours is to develop guys and give them great experience and prepare them for the next level. Our kids are competitive and they are all looking to get better. Nobody wants to lose but when you overemphasize winning and losing is when get into problems and can get off track.
Q: A number of top players from outside Florida have come to play football at IMG, led by quarterback Malik Henry from Southern California. Is that something you want to emphasize and continue?
A: I don’t think there is any one sport dominated by Florida kids at IMG. When you start a new program at this level, you have to get your name and brand out there so kids on a national level recognize it. That’s what’s happened the last couple of years and why you see kids coming from different parts of the country. That will continue to be a trend. They have done a really good job of getting the brand and the name out there.
It does help that it’s located in Florida and you can train all year along. You’ve got great academics and you have an ability to train in a setting like this. It’s a very unique situation and it’s not available everywhere.
Q: Have you and Steve had a chance to talk about how the roles will be handled and who will be responsible for what?
A: I think it’s a work in progress. We talked Monday for the first time. The idea is it’s really difficult for one person like Chris did to balance the football season and the team while at the same time overseeing camps and kids and people coming in on a weekly basis to train to be able to do both. We’ll be working closely together because we’re ultimately tied.
He’s got a tremendous background. I think he’ll do a lot of the same things that Chris was able to bring in terms of NFL experience and player development — area that is important that the football program has been grounded in. Players like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton and players of that caliber trained here.
We’d like to be all-encompassing and how that works out we’re still working on it. Both excited and have a general idea of how things will work. Like any other new job, the first year is work in progress and you go from there and learn and get better.
Q: Are you planning to bring any assistant coaches from your Carmel staff?
A: Unless you count my wife as an assistant coach (laughs). We’ve got one opening for defensive coordinator. Otherwise the whole staff is in place. Had a chance to talk with almost everybody (after the hiring was announced). Everyone is excited and on board.