Most people think they know Texas high school football.
Usually it’s a negative perception, a picture of huge stadiums filled with adoring fans and football players who seemingly own the town.
That image is mostly due to the book, movie and TV show ‘Friday Night Lights.’
Gray Levy wanted to find out for himself.
Levy has been involved in football, as a head coach or an assistant, in Northern Nevada since the late 1980s.
He grew disenchanted with the lack of support here though, and wanted to see why football is still so dominant in Texas.
Levy found a different culture than most would expect. He wrote a book based on his findings ‘Big and Bright.’
Early in the book Levy writes, “I’d become disillusioned with the changing priorities of public education and hoped to restore my faith.”
Levy, who graduated from UNR in the 1980s and was a teacher in Nevada for 20 years, now retired, will be an assistant football coach at McQueen this season, coaching the offensive line. He also works on the grounds crew for the Reno Aces at Greater Nevada Field. In the winter, he teaches skiing at Mount Rose.
He said football — and all extracurricular activities in Texas — are a priority, whereas public schools in much of the rest of the United States are only focused on test scores.
“There’s no place in the country that does it like Texas does,” Levy said. “It’s different there in a way it isn’t here. With that importance comes funding.”
Levy said one big difference is that in Texas, all coaches are required to also be teachers. That isn’t the case in Nevada, nor in many states.
“Education in Nevada and elsewhere has become a real bottom line business based on test scores. Everything takes a back seat to test scores,” Levy said. “In Texas, people in the community care that their football team is quality and that they have good extracurricular activities.”
Levy spent a week in 2012 with 11 different schools in Texas, all across the state and varying in size from 56 students to more than 3,000.
He wanted full access, including attending all meetings.
He chose good-quality programs to follow. Ten of the 11 schools he followed went to the playoffs and two won state championships. The following season, 2013, five of the teams won state titles.
“It’s amazing to be a fly on the wall in all those rooms and see how things are done,” Levy said. “There’s a hundred different ways to do things and all are effective. There’s completely different philosophies, but they all work.”
He said that of all the schools he contacted prior to going to Texas, only two did not want him there, saying he would be a distraction.
“A couple of coaches were leery. There’s a lot of bad stereotypes about football in Texas, on racism, and on valuing athletics over academics,” Levy said. “I came away with a very different perspective. I came away being very impressed.”
Small schools in Texas play 6-man football, something he said is vastly different than the eight-man version played by small schools in Nevada.
His book shows the reader why football is important in Texas. He both confirms preconceived notions and deflates others.
He illustrates the passion in Texas communities for their high school football teams.
Levy explains how coaches spend their entire week, not just on game night, but also during school hours.
Levy also spent time coaching football in Germany, for a semi-pro team there. He discovered the Germans are eager for football knowledge and quickly ceded control to him.
He said football is still fairly new in Germany and players are appreciative of any knowledge an American can share.
Levy was an offensive coordinator there in 2015. He said the person who hired him in Germany quickly became his assistant, although he had been with the team for more than 20 years.
Although the teams in Germany are considered semi-pro, only the two Americans each team is allowed receive any pay.
He was amazed by how the Germans soaked up any information he could provide.
“They didn’t know me from anyone else. I don’t have a great reputation or anything. I’m not Vince Lombardi or anything,” Levy said. “But anything I said was gospel.”
He said some players who had planned to retire from the team in Germany stuck around for one more season to learn while he was there.
‘Big and Bright’ is available on Amazon, but Levy said he is trying to get it into area bookstores also.