Port Arthur, Texas coaching legend Todd Dodge talks legacy, lessons before Hall of Fame induction
Published 12:38 am Friday, November 11, 2022
Before he was one of the greatest coaches in Texas high school football, Todd Dodge was one of the best quarterbacks in the state, playing for Thomas Jefferson High School.
On Saturday, he returns to Port Arthur for his induction into the Museum of the Gulf Coast Sports Hall of Fame. The ceremony is set for 2 p.m. at the museum.
“In all of the awards I have been blessed to receive, this is at the top because of where it is coming from,” Dodge said. “It is an honor to be mentioned with the greats of Southeast Texas. My home area means so much to me.”
In 1980, he led the school to the state championship game and in his senior year, he set the state record for passing yards in a season with 3,135 yards, becoming the first quarterback in the state to throw for more than 3,000.
He also set the record for most career completions in a season and finished with the second-most passing touchdowns in a career behind Gary Kubiak.
After graduating, Dodge went on to play at the University of Texas under Coach Fred Akers.
Even though he was playing quarterback for the Longhorns, Dodge knew he wanted to be a high school coach after graduating.
“In my last two years at TJ, my mom and dad got transferred out of Port Arthur,” Dodge said. “My dad was a Methodist preacher. I lived with Richard Rice, who was one of my teammates. His mom and dad took guardianship over me. Ronnie Thompson was my coach, and it is cliché but it was my family. I knew I wanted to keep being a part of that.”
He accepted a job as the quarterbacks and receivers coach at Rockwall High School in 1987. That year the team went on to play against West Orange-Stark in the 4A State Title game.
Over the next few years, Dodge worked his way up the ranks until he became a head coach at C.H. Yoe High School in Cameron, then at Carrollton Newman-Smith and Keller Fossil Ridge high schools.
In 2000, he was hired to take over the Southlake Carroll program, which had a history of success, winning three 3A state titles in the previous 12 years, but the most recent was in 1993. When Dodge took over, Southlake Caroll had since moved up to 5A, which was the highest classification in the state at the time.
“I knew about the tradition there,” Dodge said of taking the job at Southlake. “I was thrilled to just get to interview. The coach that had won three titles there, Bob Ledbetter, was the AD that hired me. To be hired by such a legend was very special to me.”
Success didn’t take long as Dodge led the program to his first state championship in 2002. He made it back to the title game the next year, where his team lost by one point, but Southlake would go on to win the next three titles from 2004-2007.
“The five-year run of 79-1 was on,” he said. “They had won with the wishbone, previously, so it was different. In 2000, we were bringing in the spread offense and throwing it around a bunch.”
After his stint at Southlake, Dodge took the head coaching job for the University North Texas. He was not able to attain the same success he achieved at the high school level but was able to leave the program with some valuable experience.
“It was a very humbling and frustrating time,” he said. “There was a lot of learning that went on. One thing I take from that time is that I have about 10 guys that played for me during that time coaching high school in Texas right now. That is really rewarding to see those guys.”
Dodge knew he wanted to return to coaching high school football and landed at Austin Westlake in 2014 after a short stint at Marble Falls.
“When I got the job at Southlake Carroll, I was 37 years old,” Dodge said. “When I got the job at Westlake, I was 50 years old. There was a whole lot of maturity and growing as a head coach. I was a the head coach at those places for a combination of 15 years.”
Dodge said he had a six-year plan heading into the Westlake gig.
“Six years would be how long it would take to get the kids starting the program in seventh grade to graduation,” Dodge said.
In year six, the senior year for the kids that were in seventh grade when he started, Westlake won a state title. Even though he had achieved his goal, he decided to stick around an extra two seasons, winning three consecutive titles from 2019-2021.
The last title packed a little extra meaning for Dodge. Not only did he get a chance to coach against Southlake Carroll, who he led to multiple championships in the past, his son Riley was the opposing head coach.
“That was the first and only time that had happened at any classification in Texas, let alone 6A,” Dodge said. “That is a real sense of pride for our family. I was just so proud of my son. We won, but it was a weird feeling when the game was over. There was that super, super feeling. I just didn’t want to show my emotions too much out there on the field. Part of me, we are fathers. You hurt for your son. I remember when the game was over, I wanted to celebrate with my team but wanted to do it in the locker room and not really on the field.”
Dodge credits his assistant coaches and players for his success. He said the greatest joy the game has brought him was his impact and ability to reach young men.
“We taught a bunch of kids to respect the game of football,” he said. “You don’t win as many championships as we did if you don’t love the game and respect the game. I think we had a lot of opportunities along the way to get full of ourselves, and we never did. I think that is an important lesson in life. If you have success, you better understand why you are having it. Anyone in life or on a Friday night can knock your head off if you don’t have your A game.”