Chapter Eight Excerpt: Idalou Wildcats

My last of four stops in West Texas was at Idalou. Ironically, given the selection below, the Wildcats are the team who have had a head coaching change. After the 2012 season, Jeff Long gave up the head job to take a coordinator position with a friend. Idalou stayed in-house and hired alum and assistant coach Jeff Lofton. The Wildcats had a solid first season under the young coach, finishing the regular season 7-3 and winning their bi-district game before falling in the 2nd round.

….The most remarkable thing about Idalou is how stable the staff is and how long the core group has been together. When Taylor took the job in 1988, he inherited Coach Reagan. Long and offensive/defensive line coach Mark Turner came over two years later in 1990. Five of the eight coaches have been in Idalou over 10 years and Coach Lofton, while younger than most of the staff, had deep Wildcat roots, playing and graduating from Idalou in 1997. He returned to coach in 2009.

When Taylor retired in 2010, the program stayed on the same path. By promoting from within and hiring then-defensive coordinator Long as the new head man, the program avoided the upheaval a new coach often causes by bringing in new schemes and people.  Such stability is rare in this state, where assistant coaches often move every few years, working their way up the ladder.

This stability is a big reason for Idalou’s success. This was the winningest class 2A program in Texas during the 2000s. A coaching staff is a team, like the team on the field. Working so long together makes this staff much more efficient than most. Each coach knows his role and how what he teaches fits into the big picture.

            As much as I like the Texas model of athletics and coaching professionalism, the transitory nature of the job is hard for me to approve of. A positive aspect is that coaches get tremendous experience, learning different things at each stop; coaches here have the added motivation of needing to put their best foot forward or risk losing their jobs. A coach with five years’ experience in Texas is likely further along than a five-year coach in most other states. The Texas system guarantees assistants won’t shirk on their coaching responsibilities as those are just as important to their continued employment as their teaching duties. It also guarantees less of the staff politics that sometimes occurs, with assistants angling for the head job. While politics do occur, the need to win is a purifying factor. Hires must always be made with that bottom line in mind. It’s a two way relationship; the assistants truly are employed by the head coach and everyone’s in the same boat together. If the head coach doesn’t win and loses his job, the staff is in danger of losing theirs as well.

The down side is that without stability in assistant positions, coaches rarely develop relationships with their players. Professionalism can create a mercenary atmosphere, where certain jobs are openly known as stepping stones for better positions. There’s very little loyalty from coaches when they’re just building a resume. The head coach is often in a tough spot as well. The need to win can make school boards impatient for results, and sometimes coaches are fired before they can fully build their program. It’s nice to see a school like Idalou, where so many coaches have been with these same kids for years.         

I love the football I’ve seen in Texas. The preparation, coaching and execution are everything I’d hoped to find. However, I’ve purposely chosen these programs because they’re exemplary. Is it a cheat to stack the deck this way and use the results to validate my original opinion? I’m not sure. I worry that 11 different programs would paint a different, less attractive picture. Can the quality I’ve seen in these programs justify the system as a whole? I think so, but the question bothers me…

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