Hodge’s turn comes at Dresden
Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:00 pm
By MIKE HUTCHENS
Keith Hodge was told three years ago he stood a good chance of being Dresden’s next head football coach some day.
That day was Friday.
Principal Check West confirmed what most everyone expected over the weekend, announcing Hodge had officially been elevated to the Lions’ head coaching position from that of an assistant.
Hodge was the obvious choice for the post after being hired as Dresden’s offensive coordinator prior to the 2009 season. He was an integral part of the Black and Gold going from a winless season the year before he arrived to a combined 24 victories over the last three years that included an unprecedented run to the Class 2A state championship game this past December.
He replaces veteran DHS school man Scott Hewett, who had publicly endorsed Hodge for the position after announcing early in the 2011 campaign that he would give up his coaching duties at the end of the season due to increased demands as an administrator.
Hewett served two different stints as Dresden’s football coach.
The 30-year-old Hodge — a Bruceton native — said the seed was planted for the time when he might have the opportunity in be in charge of the Lion gridiron fortunes during an interview for a job as Hewett’s assistant after he’d served a short tenure as an aide in McMinn County.
“He (Hewett) told me he wasn’t going to coach much longer and that I would probably be in line for the head coaching job if I’d come and be an assistant for him first,” Hodge told The Press. “Even though I really didn’t think a whole lot about it, it was something I remembered from time to time.
“I know a lot of people just naturally assumed this would happen after the last three years, but I still had to look at it and see if it was for me and my family. I obviously wanted to talk it over with my wife (Ashley). She’s been so understanding, putting up with the long hours of me being away just as an assistant coach. We prayed about it, and she told me she wanted me to take it.
“It was pretty easy decision after that.”
Dresden principal Chuck West admitted that essentially no one else other than Hodge was considered for the position.
“He was our first and only choice,” West said. “He’s done an excellent job as an offensive coordinator and as an assistant coach and he’s been in charge of a lot of things already that falls under the responsibility of a head coach.
“He’s organized and thoroughly prepared in everything he does. I believe he’ll be an excellent head coach for us.”
Though he had no official “head-coach-in-waiting” title, Hodge was given a great deal of freedom to scheme and run the Lion offense as he saw fit the past three years.
He proved worthy of Hewett’s confidence liberty by directing a versatile and well-balanced attack to 30 or more points 10 times in Dresden’s 12-3 2011 season that was culminated by an appearance in the double-A BlueCross Bowl.
The Lions tallied three TDs or more in nine of their 12 games in 2010 and went from zero to seven wins in ’09, largely due to an improved offense.
The new Dresden skipper insisted that experience — without someone looking over his shoulder — was invaluable.
“He (Hewett) let us coach and not all head coaches let their assistants do that,” Hodge said. “That’s the reason some assistant coaches leave a place. And it makes a huge difference when you feel someone has confidence in you enough to let you do your job and have a little freedom to make some of your own changes.”
Hodge believes his familiarity with the program’s returning players and they with him, should make for an easy assistant-to-head-coach transition.
“The players know what I expect and my attitude about working hard, discipline and what I’ll demand from them,” he said. “Sometimes, when you bring a brand new guy in, there’s uncertainty in all those areas. Plus, I know the kids, so there won’t be the getting-acquainted period like there would be if I was a new guy coming in.”
He did say, though, there would be some subtle changes under his regime.
“Every coach puts his own stamp on a program, and I’ll be no different,” Hodge said. “My discipline philosophy might be a little different than Coach Hewett’s in some instances, and we might do a few things differently in pregame. There will be some tweaks in some other areas, too, I’m sure.”
One thing that won’t change will be the makeup of the remainder of the staff as every assistant — including his older brother Chad, the Lions’ fiery defensive coordinator — has committed to return, Keith said.
“Chad is staying on. He says he wants to, and I certainly wanted him to,” stated Keith, who did insist the brothers were not a package deal for DHS. “Chad will keep on doing what he’s been doing. He knows I want him here and the role he plays has been awseome with the kids and they’ve responded. I believe the players and the community want him, too.
“If for some reason he were to end up not coming, I’ll spend a lot of time trying to find someone just like him.”
Assistants Scott Killebrew, Tim Evans and Gary Goes will also keep their previous roles. Hodge admitted he’d like to add more help if a teaching spot opens at the school, but said he’d be comfortable with his staff as is.
The Lions’ offseason workouts are to get under way immediately after a three-week dead period following the team’s last game, and Hodge said they would not be optional for anyone planning on suiting up next fall.
“The winter workouts will be more mandatory for all those who intend on playing next year. For us to continue what we’ve started the past three years and to build on it, we have to start working harder in the offseason. That includes the weight room, eating right and with our flexibility,” the coach insisted.
“We won’t interfere with those who participate in other sports or with their academics, but they’ll have to make some sort of commitment to the football program in addition to whatever else they’re doing if they want to be with us come the fall.”
With not only a new set of professional responsibilities on the way, but his first child due, too, to him and wife Ashley in June, Hodge admitted his life is about to drastically change.
“I’m sure I’ll get overwhelmed by it all sometime in the real near future,” he chuckled.
“Being in charge of 50-something players and a coaching staff, and having a new baby on the way, no doubt things are going to be different for me in a lot of ways.”
Those changes have already begun. Published in The WCP 1.10.12