SOUTHLAKE (CBS 11 SPORTS) – You’ll be hard pressed to find a more high profile high school football program in the state of Texas than the 8-time State Champion Southlake Carroll Dragons. It’s a destination school for high school coaches in the state, which is why Carroll ISD interviewed candidates for its football coaching job who had resumes replete with state championship accomplishments.
So, why did Carroll shock the high school coaching world and hire a 29-year old coach with no head coaching experience? It might be the same reason the LA Rams hired 30-year-old Sean McVay and the Oklahoma Sooners handed over the reins to 33-year-old Lincoln Riley last year.
It’s because Riley Dodge, the “favorite son” among many Dragon faithful, is ready to lead the Dragon football program.
If ever there was a person who was born to coach, it is Riley Dodge.
Dodge is the son of 4-time Texas High School State Champion Head Coach Todd Dodge and the grandson of the late Ebbie Neptune, a member of the Texas High School Athletic Directors Hall of Honor, for whom the football stadium at Austin Westlake is named. So, his coaching roots were securely planted even before he was on the Texas Stadium sidelines in 1996 as a 7-year old ball boy for the Drew Brees-quarterbacked Westlake state championship team.
Riley Dodge would go on to become one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Texas high school history, a member of three straight state championship teams at Carroll, MaxPreps National Player of the Year, Gatorade Texas Player of the Year, and a Parade All-American, the most acclaimed football player in Carroll ISD history.
He then went on to play quarterback and wide receiver at the Division 1 collegiate level at the University of North Texas and McNeese State.
However, as accomplished as he was as a football player, all of that was merely a training ground for what is Dodge’s true calling in life — to be a Texas high school football head coach.
Dodge has had the rare opportunity of being mentored by some of the top coaching minds in the game, starting with his father in high school and college.
Once his playing days were over, Dodge has been on a fast track, having served directly under no less than six current or former college head coaches in a 3-year period:
1) Texas A&M: Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, OC Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech HC), and WR coach David Beaty (Kansas HC);
2) University of Texas: Head Coach Mack Brown, OC Major Applewhite (Houston HC), and Head Coach Charlie Strong..
As a graduate assistant at Texas A&M, Dodge helped accomplish something no coaching staff has been able to do since…keep Johnny Football under control.
At Aggie games and practices in 2012, Dodge was the right hand man for Johnny Manziel, who became the first redshirt freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He was assigned to personally assist and teach Manziel and fellow freshman and future NFL 1st round draft pick Mike Evans in the film room.
Late that season, Dodge’s responsibilities increased when A&M Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury took the Texas Tech head coaching job and abruptly left the coaching staff depleted leading up to a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. At the last minute, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin elevated Riley to an important play calling role in the press box for that game.
Dodge was then hired by Texas Head Coach Mack Brown in 2013. He spent that season in Offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite’s hip pocket, assisting the play caller in the booth on game days.
When a coaching change occurred in 2014, Dodge was one of the few staff members retained by new UT Head Coach Charlie Strong. He benefited further that season working alongside and learning from his third offensive coordinator in three years, Shawn Watson.
Having, in effect, earned the equivalent of three Masters degrees in three roller-coaster seasons of collegiate coaching, it’s little wonder that Dodge so quickly succeeded at the helm of the Flower Mound Marcus offense the next two seasons.
Playing in one of the toughest Class 6A districts in Texas in 2015, Dodge helped overhaul what had been a ground oriented attack at Marcus. A Marauders team that had gone 11-21 the previous three seasons, went 10-2 in 2015, featuring a balanced offense (2302 passing yards/2437 rushing yards).
In 2016, despite graduating starting quarterback Mitch Cason (UNT), running back Nate Hopkins (UConn), and leading receiver Kaden Smith (Stanford), Marcus was able to match the scoring output (33.4ppg) of the previous season. Most impressively, Dodge adjusted and, with an inexperienced QB, he relied heavily on the ground game and sophomore Justin Dinka, who was 2nd in the area with 1711 rushing yards.
When Marcus HC Gerry Stanford accepted the Texarkana Texas HS job last year, Riley declined an invitation to join him there, mainly due to the fact he didn’t want to uproot from the Southlake area, where he grew up.
As Offensive Coordinator and QBs Coach at Justin Northwest last season, Dodge’s productivity continued as the Texans ranked 5th in the area in 5A total offense. Northwest averaged nearly 500 yards a game featuring a balanced attack (245 yards rushing/238 yards passing per game) which was the hallmark of the Todd Dodge offenses at Carroll.
The big question about Dodge is his age. He turns 30 in October. But consider this. Some of the greatest Texas high school coaches ever got their first head coaching jobs at a younger age— the legendary G. A. Moore (24) and Gordon Wood (26).
Chuck Curtis became head coach at Jacksboro at 24, won a state title at 27, then won back to back state championships at Garland at age 28 and 29.
More recently, Joey McGuire was 31 when Cedar Hill promoted him to head coach in 2003. The Longhorns, who had never even made the playoffs before, won 3 state titles in the next 14 years. Now a Baylor assistant coach, McGuire told me he personally called Carroll Superintendent David Faltys on Dodge’s behalf.
The late great Texas Hall of Famer Eddy Peach was 29 when he became head coach at Arlington Lamar in 1970. His son, Scott Peach, was named head coach at Arlington High at age 28 and is one of the most respected coaches around.
The NFL Coach of the Year last season was Sean McVay, whom the LA Rams hired for his first head coaching job at any level last year at age 30. Lincoln Riley led Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff last season after abruptly taking over for Bob Stoops at age 33.
Not coincidentally, McVay and Riley are both coach’s sons, just like Riley Dodge. The jobs were not too big for them because they’ve prepared for them all their lives.
All of those great coaches have one thing in common. They were born to coach.
Prior to his acceptance of the job last week, I had a 45-minute phone conversation with Dodge during which he detailed his game plan for leading the Dragons program. I came away from that discussion thinking I had just been talking with Lincoln Riley.
I am not surprised when I hear from sources close to the Carroll coach search that Dodge aced the entire interview process. One veteran coach came away from a conversation with Dodge saying, “There’s our guy. He has it, the it factor.”
Dodge is driven to succeed and, having grown up a Dragon, he knows the importance of connecting with the community, building the program from the ground up, and ensuring that all players feel like valued members of the team.
There is no doubt in my mind that Riley Dodge is imminently qualified to take the reins of this program. He has a unique ability to connect with student-athletes. And like his father and grandfather before him, he will have a profound impact on the athletes he coaches and the community he represents. I can’t think of a better man to continue the tradition of the Carroll Dragons.