Four underrated coaches you should know from every 11-man classification

Our high school football insider spotlights a few coaches who maybe don't get the credit they deserve for the work they've done.

John Snelson has done an admirable job at Dickinson. (Photo by Andy Tolbert)

There’s no question the quality of coaching in Texas high school football is second to none, from the 6A level down to the 1A level there are outstanding coaches across our great state. But who are the guys who don’t get the credit they quite deserve? Maybe they aren’t winning state titles, but if we are measuring success by just that metric, then a lot of guys wouldn’t be considered successful! Today we take a look at a few unsung coaches across the state as part of our season kickoff coverage.

CLASS 6A

Region I: Tony Baccarini, Keller Fossil Ridge

Despite the growth that has hit Keller ISD (KISD has more than doubled in size since Ridge opened), Tony Baccarini has managed in most years to keep the Panthers in contention for the district title, which is an impressive accomplishment considering many schools take major dips as attendance zones get sliced to make room for new schools. It was not different for Fossil Ridge as they saw their struggles in 2008-2010, but since then consistency has been the norm. Fossil Ridge has made the playoffs four straight years, (including a 9-4 mark in 2013) and with seventeen returning starters from a team that was 7-4 last year, don’t be too surprised if the Panthers make some waves in 2017.

Region II: Jeff Ables, Austin Bowie

The conversation in the Austin area generally revolves around powerhouses Lake Travis, Austin Westlake and Cedar Park, so it’s easy to forget about Austin Bowie and the consistent winner head coach Jeff Ables has built on the southern edge of the city. Coach Ables is an institution at Bowie, where he’s entering his 30th season on campus and his 16th as the head coach. The Bulldogs have made the playoffs in ten straight years and have gone three rounds deep twice: in 2010 and last year’s impressive 11-2 mark. Coach Ables celebrated his 100th win at Bowie last year when the Bulldogs defeated Abilene Cooper in non-district play and the way things are looking, don’t expect a slow down any time soon for him and his squad.

Region III: John Snelson, Dickinson

Since taking over as head coach at Dickinson in 2012, John Snelson’s squads have rekindled the glory days of Gator football when Donnie Little led DHS to a state title in 1977. After a rough first year, Dickinson has emerged as one of Houston’s most dynamic programs going 35-5 the past three years. The best season came in 2014 when Snelson’s squad posted a 13-1 record, losing a 31-28 heartbreaker to Cypress Ranch in the state quarterfinals. Dickinson returned to the quarterfinals a year later, but fell to eventual state champion Galena Park North Shore. Dickinson’s success is all the more impressive considering Coach Snelson, in the spring of 2015, was diagnosed with throat cancer. Snelson hasn’t missed a beat coaching his squad throughout the past two years, we continue to wish him well on his road back to health (and the road back to recovery for Dickinson after Harvey) and, as always, we’ll be watching the Gators. 

Region IV: Frenchy McCrea, Del Rio

It’s easy to forget about the Del Rio Rams. They are a 6A program that for all intents and purposes is almost completely isolated. The nearest 6A program is in Eagle Pass (56 miles away), and after that you’ve got to travel 160 miles to San Antonio to run into another 6A program. That hasn’t stopped Del Rio alum Frenchy McCrea from making his Rams one of the toughest teams in Region IV. When head coach Stephen Hoffman departed for Corsicana in 2013, many Rams fans worried that Del Rio would go back to the days of the early 2000’s when losing seasons were the norm. However, McCrea — who was Hoffman’s OC — has kept the train going as the Rams have advanced to at least the area round of the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, including ten wins in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Del Rio advanced to the third round of the playoffs before falling to Cibolo Steele 28-10.

 CLASS 5A

Region I: Scott Brooks, Canutillo

Coaching is in Scott Brooks’ blood. The son of longtime El Paso Coronado head coach Don Brooks, the leader of the Canutillo Eagles has been around a football field all his life. And to most, Coach Brooks IS Canutillo football. When he took over at CHS in 1999, the Eagles were an average program at best when it came to the pecking order in the Sun City. After a couple of rough years, Brooks got the blue and orange going in 2002 with a 7-4 mark and a playoff appearance, and since then CHS has been a consistent fixture in the playoffs. The 2007 season saw Canutillo break through with a 10-2 mark but they didn’t break past the area round until 2013 with a third round trip and close loss to Wichita Falls. Then in 2014 history was made as Coach Brooks led Canutillo on a history making journey, posting a 13-2 record and a trip to the state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Ennis. It was the first time ever that a team from El Paso County had advanced to the state semifinals in football. Coach Brooks is very low key and is quick to give credit to everyone else but himself for the run of success in Canutillo, but as one former player told me, “You can’t have Canutillo football without Coach Brooks, he’s the one constant.”

Region II: Vance Gibson, Frisco

The explosive growth in Frisco had already started when Vance Gibson took the Raccoons program over in 2005, FISD had grown from one 3A high school to a pair of 4A’s with FHS and Frisco Centennial. That growth spurt has accelerated at an unprecedented rate the past dozen years at Frisco ISD, which now has eight 5A high schools with two more set to start varsity football in 2018. All that growth has made things difficult at times for Frisco, but Gibson and his willingness to adapt has been a constant and Frisco has seen consistent success since taking it “old school.” Frisco ran the spread offense when Coach Gibson first landed at FHS, but after the explosive growth depleted the ranks, Frisco posted back-to-back 0-10 seasons in 2008 and 2009 and Gibson decided to make a change and move the Raccoons to the Wing-T offense. Frisco rebounded in 2010 to go 4-6, and the past six years the blue and gold has seen lots of winning with three straight trips to the regional semifinals from 2011 to 2013. Only in 2014, when Frisco posted a 6-4 record, has Coach Gibson’s squad missed out on the playoffs since the change in offensive philosophy. Despite all the constant change in Frisco ISD, Coach Gibson has remained a steady influence in the district’s original high school, and despite being a 42-year veteran of coaching he’s got no plans on slowing down anytime soon.

Fort Bend Marshall head coach James Williams has built one of the state’s best 5A programs in the last few years. (Photo Courtesy Fort Bend ISD)

Region III: James Williams, Fort Bend Marshall

Going about his business quietly and stressing character, toughness and a belief in each other have been traits of Coach Williams and his Marshall Buffaloes since his arrival in 2010. That toughness is embodied in a lot of ways by the tie-in between the Buffs’ success on the gridiron, and on the track where they have won multiple team titles. “Track is one of the most mentally tough sports around, at every practice the kids are pushing their bodies, hurting and you’ve got to be mentally tough to push through that,” said Coach Williams. His football team has seen plenty of success. Since 2012, MHS has posted a combined 45-17 record and two trips to the state quarterfinals in 2012 and 2016. With a ton of experience and talent returning, Marshall is considered by many to be a favorite in Region III.

Region IV: Ricky Lock, San Antonio Southside

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Ricky Lock departed Gonzales for what most considered a very tough job at Southside. In 2013, the Cardinals posted a 1-9 record and only twice in the previous ten seasons had the Cardinals posted a winning record, but that didn’t deter Lock when he took the job. SISD has made investments in upgraded facilities, and when Coach Lock arrived, he simplified the offense and that’s paid off with more consistency as the Cardinals have made the playoffs twice in his three seasons. Even in 2015, when his team stumbled to a 3-7 mark due to injuries, Southside was right in the mix in four of their defeats. On the surface, one wouldn’t think the job Lock is doing is all that special at Southside, but when you peel back the layers it’s easy to see why it’s one of the more underrated performances in Class 5A.

CLASS 4A

Region I: Mickey Owens, Monahans

Tough, hard-nosed football defines West Texas, it defines the Monahans Loboes and it defines head coach Mickey Owens, who in this day and age of fast-paced, high-flying offenses, prefers to get things done with defense and a smash mouth running game. He understands the history and tradition of the Monahans program and has taken the time to put together a historical record book of all the scores, coaches and players who have adorned the Monahans uniform. He’s done all that in addition to keeping the Loboes tradition of winning on the field alive, despite an ever shrinking enrollment. Since arriving at Monahans in 2005, Owens has had incredible success, posting a 112-39 record and leading Monahans to the state semifinals in 2011 and the state quarterfinals in 2010 and 2005.

Region II: Richard Barrett, Kennedale

In his time at Kennedale, Richard Barrett has helped build the Wildcats into a state powerhouse not just in football, but in multiple other sports on both the boys and girls side. Barrett has also spearheaded multiple facility improvements on campus as the Wildcats athletes enjoy some facilities that are on par with some 6A programs. Under Barrett’s guidance and the Wing-T offense, Kennedale has made the playoffs sixteen straight years and in 2016 made their deepest run in school history before falling in the semifinals to Abilene Wylie.

Dwayne DuBois is building up his alma mater. (Photo by Russell Wilburn)

Region III: Dwayne DuBois, Bridge City

DuBois returned to his alma mater in 2015 and immediately made a big impact on the Cardinals program in his first season, leading the Cardinals to a 7-5 mark. In 2016, he led Bridge City to their first district title in 13 years and a 9-3 record. DuBois is making a habit of turning programs around. In 2014, he led Hardin-Jefferson to their first 10-win season in 48 years. Aside from being one of the most underrated coaches in the state, DuBois has earned the reputation as a man of high character in Southeast Texas through his actions above all else. His players feed off that and despite not having the most physical talent, the buy-in from his Cardinals is through the roof.

Region IV: Tom Allen, Sinton

Long a power along the coastal bend, when Tom Allen took over at Sinton in 2007 the Pirates were in the midst of a slump. They had played for a state title in 2001 and had several other deep playoff runs, but in 2006 the Pirates fell to 4-7 and after his first year at the helm, things bottomed out at 1-9. The community remained patient with Allen and his teams have rewarded a rabid fan base with a great run since 2008 as Sinton has posted a 95-20 mark including runs to the state semifinals in 2013 and 2014. Allen’s impact has been felt far beyond the football field and he’s serving as inspiration for his team and coaches across the state after being diagnosed in 2016 with Multiple System Atrophy, which is a rare neurological condition similar to Parkinson’s.

CLASS 3A

Region I: Houston Guy, Wall

Guy’s first two years at the helm weren’t pretty as the Hawks stumbled to 4-6 and 3-7 records after a decent run of success. In 2009, Coach Guy switched schemes from the wishbone to the triple option flexbone and the Hawks took off. A 7-4 mark in 2009 followed and was just a taste of what’s been one of the state’s best programs. Since 2010, Wall has posted a fantastic 84-13 record including a 15-1 run in 2013 that ended in an appearance in the 3A Division I state title game. In addition to that run, in 2016 the Hawks took home the Region I title before falling to Mineola in the state semifinals. Coach Guy’s willingness to adapt his system to the talent around him back in 2009 has paid off in a huge way as Wall — despite a lack of publicity statewide — is certainly among the state’s elite programs.

Region II: Matt Poe, Pottsboro

The last name Poe is synonymous with coaching in the state of Texas, and Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe has certainly lived up to this father’s legacy just south at McKinney with his own tremendous success in Texoma. Poe, who has been at Pottsboro since 2006, is the school’s all-time leader in wins and has taken the Cardinals to heights never seen in program history. In his first year, he turned Pottsboro around from back-to-back 0-10 seasons to a 7-3 mark and his program has never looked back with just one losing campaign since then and five straight seasons of 11 or more wins. The 2008 season was the high water mark for Pottsboro as they advanced all the way to the state semifinals before falling to Cisco 33-26.

Jimmy Thompson has brought consistency to a talent-rich program. (Photo by Russell Wilburn)

Region III: Jimmy Thompson, Crockett

Jimmy Thompson has been a winner at nearly every stop in his long coaching career, but the job he’s done at Crockett recently has gone largely unnoticed, mainly because the Bulldogs get overshadowed by district rival Newton. Crockett has long been a solid program, but declining enrollment had seen the Bulldogs fortunes turn as in 2012 and 2013 Crockett won just four games combined. Thompson arrived on the scene and immediately turned things around with CHS posting a trip to the area round of the playoffs in his first year (2015), and has seen Crockett emerge once again, posting a 24-6 mark and back-to-back deep playoff runs. Thompson is quick to deflect credit to his players and coaches, but ask anyone in Houston County about him and they will tell you he’s a big reason for the culture change in Crockett.

Region IV: Zane Bode, Florence

When Zane Bode took over at Florence in 2015 he called the program a “gold mine” and most simply laughed his comments off as lip service at a new job. Considering the Buffaloes had only made the playoffs twice in school history, with the last trip coming in 2001, it’s easy to see why most would dismiss that. But Bode has Florence on the brink of a breakout season in 2017. A year ago the Buffaloes posted just their third trip to the playoffs with a 5-6 mark. Florence welcomes back a very experienced team for Bode’s third year and the talk in Florence has shifted from simply being competitive and winning a game or two in district, to now winning playoff games.

CLASS 2A

Region I: Russell Lucas, Hamlin

For a long time, Hamlin has been one of the better small school programs in the Big Country, but when Coach Lucas took over in 2008, the Pied Pipers had been struggling. They had five straight losing seasons, but in year one, Lucas’ impact was felt as the Pipers went 8-3 and it hasn’t slowed down as Hamlin has had just one losing season during his tenure (a 5-6 mark in 2011). Hamlin’s best year under Lucas was a 12-1 mark in 2014 and the Pipers duplicated that three-round run in 2016, posting a 10-3 mark.

Clint Zander is turning out playoff season after playoff season at Bosqueville. (Courtesy Bosqueville ISD)

Region II: Clint Zander, Bosqueville

When Clint Zander was promoted to HFC/AD at Bosqueville in 2008 it didn’t get much fanfare. The Bulldogs were at best an average program and had losing records in three of the previous four years. Since Zander has taken the reins, Bosqueville has had just a single losing season (5-6 record in 2010) and the Bulldogs have won at least one playoff game four times. The 2012 season was without a doubt the Bulldogs best year as Coach Zander’s squad posted an impressive 12-2 mark with their only losses coming at the hands of arch nemesis Mart and powerhouse Alto.

Region III: Jason Thibodeaux, Sabine Pass

Sabine Pass re-established football in 2006 and from 2006 to 2016 the Sharks had never won more than three games in a single season. In fact, just winning a game was something to be happy about most years, and after an 0-10 mark in 2015, SPHS was universally picked to be at the bottom of the standings in 12-2A Division II. Coach Thibodeaux’s squad stunned most experts, going 6-5 and earning a trip to the playoffs. With six starters back on both sides of the ball, optimism is high down in Sabine Pass that the Sharks can make even more noise in 2017.

Region IV: Steven Cerny, Shiner

Shiner’s known for adult beverages more than anything else, and although the Comanches have one of the top programs in the state in 2A Division I, they often live in the shadows of Refugio just down the road. Even more in the shadows is their outstanding head coach, Steven Cerny, who prefers to remain low key about the success his program has built. Cerny has been in Shiner since 1988 and from day one his consistency and attention to detail has set him and his program apart. Cerny is a true athletic director in every sense, he’s had a hand in the success of multiple sports in Shiner including coaching two baseball teams to state titles in 1992 and 2002. He’s also the school’s head softball coach and led his ladies to the 2015 state title. His success on the gridiron has been most impressive, leading Shiner to the 2003 title game, where they lost by one point to Windthorst. In 2004, Shiner went a perfect 16-0 bringing a state title home, and in 2013, he led Shiner back to the title game where they fell to Stamford.

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