So, the UNLV Rebels are trying to undo a whole lot of unsavory history by making a dramatic left turn and hiring a high school coach - namely Tony Sanchez, the former coach at highly successful Bishop Gorman - and it has brought the overall topic of hiring a high school coach back to the forefront. It hasn't happened often - only twice in my 34 years on the planet - but one of those times was with our very own North Texas Mean Green and the imminently forgettable Todd Dodge Era.
So my question to the Texas experts on our staff was: did Todd Dodge fail because he was a high school coach, or for other reasons?
Jared - Former high school coaches can obviously be very successful moving up to the college ranks; just look at Gus Malzahn. But Dodge is a unique case because he moved from coaching a high school team to running a college program over night, and there's a huge difference between being a good coach and a good head coach.
College head coaches require a much more executive skill set, including resource management, media relations, fundraising, etc. Most college head coaches spend very little of their time doing anything that actually resembles our traditional view of "coaching" football with a whistle in their mouth or a film remote in their hand.
For a high school coach to be successful at the collegiate level, he needs to spend time around a collegiate program and learn how to interact with boosters, build connections with junior college coaches, and engage with the campus community.
That's just generally speaking, though. Ultimately, Dodge failed at UNT because he brought his homies with him. UNT wasn't just a team with a high school head coach. UNT also had a high school offensive coordinator and a high school defensive coordinator. UNT's coaching staff was entirely outclassed by their opponents.
Courtesy of the Way Back Machine, check out this article on Dodge's coaching staff. Lifelong high school coaches at offensive and defensive coordinator, taking rank over college coaching veterans that have been coaching at this level for years. Dodge should have recognized his lack of familiarity with the college game as a weakness and covered for that fault by having proven, veteran college coaches as his coordinators. Instead, he compounded the problem and found himself with a 6-37 record as a college head coach.
Will - Texas State had their own such experience with hiring Brad Wright directly out of New Braunfels Canyon High School when they were in FCS, with mixed results. Wright was able to keep the momentum left over by (current Rice head coach) David Bailiff for a few years and built one hell of an offense in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
But that was partly because of assistants like Travis Bush that had previous coaching experience in the Southland Conference or other places and would eventually jump to other destinations. He was also able to get some high FCS/low FBS level talent into San Marcos at some skill positions because of his recruiting connections around Austin and San Antonio.
However, turnover at coordinator positions and suspect recruiting at certain on-field positions (especially defensive line) ultimately did him in. He also publicly challenged the athletic director to give him a raise on the radio broadcast after upsetting #5 McNeese State* and wasn't exactly afraid to publicly push the envelope with his remarks. Not exactly a smart move for a coach coming straight out of Texas 4A high school ball.
*side note, I was doing my first broadcast as sideline reporter and about crapped my pants when that happened
So, in essence, Jared nailed it. To be an FBS college head coach you have to have the skillset of a coach, politician, and used car salesman rolled up into one package, and you have to know what tasks to delegate to your coordinators and when it's appropriate to do so. You also have to be able to fit into the overall culture of the athletic department and get along with the athletic director.
Dodge never seemed to successfully adapt to the college environment like Malzahn and Hugh Freeze did. I think a high school coach could directly jump to an FCS school and make it work if he makes the right moves with his coordinators and builds strong local recruiting ties, but at the FBS level it's probably a better idea to work as an assistant for a few years before making a jump to the hot seat. Dodge did neither of those things, and he ultimately failed as a result.
Adam - As someone who lived with the Dodge Era, I can attest to what Will and Jared have said are pretty much spot on. But still, there were a ton of problems other than the coordinator issues.
Dodge came from South Lake Carroll, a school with probably the most resources at its disposal in all of Texas. Players learned his offense starting in sixth grade, and honestly academics were probably never a problem. Dodge didn't have that same recruiting luck at UNT; sources told me he had no idea what compliance was. That's kind of a big problem in terms of eligibility.
He also never modified his offense; don't forget the spread was just coming around in college and high schools at that time. He didn't have the personnel to run the exact offense he ran at SLC, and his coordinator hires with college experience came much too little too late, in my opinion.
In addition, the UNT fan base basically knighted Dodge his first day there, thinking he'd be the savior of UNT football. So heightened expectations didn't help his cause, either.
So no, Todd Dodge did not fail because he was a high school coach. Dodge failed because he did not understand his surroundings, could not adapt to them, and couldn't even scratch the lofty expectations of him.