In building a football program, coaching continuity matters

Phoebus is just down the road, and Hampton is within the city limits. But when Kecoughtan athletic director Lee Martin envisions what the Warriors' football program might become, he looks 20 miles up I-64 to Woodside.

The Wolverines won the Peninsula District championship in 2011 with a 10-0 regular season, but that didn't come overnight. It was Danny Dodson's 13th year as head coach, the first three of which netted all of six wins. Since 2009, Woodside has finished no worse than third in the PD.


So forget trying to be another Hampton, which has won a VHSL-record 17 state championships, or Phoebus, the four-time defending champ in Division 5. Kecoughtan, with its third coach in four years, prefers a more reachable model.

"You've got to get the right person in place," Martin said. "It's almost a three- or four-pronged check list. Danny is the perfect fit for Woodside — coaching, teaching, and relating to parents and the community. Woodside's probably the best example of what the rest of us are trying establish."


Only Mike Smith, who has been at Hampton since the Nixon Administration, has a longer tenure than Dodson in the Peninsula District. In fact, no other coach in the PD has been at his current school for more than four years.

Dodson came to Woodside in 1999, three years after the school opened. The Wolverines were coming off seasons of 0-10, 2-8, and 3-7. Dodson's first three years went 2-8, 0-10 and 4-6.

In his fourth year, Woodside won eight games. In his sixth, the Wolverines made their first playoff appearance.

Over the past three seasons, Woodside is 30-6 overall, 24-3 in the Peninsula District. Only Phoebus has a better ledger.


"In Danny's first six or seven years, you knew every three or four years he'd be good because he was developing a program," Phoebus coach Stan Sexton said. "But now that he's developed a program, you know they'll be good every year."

Last season's final standings reflect the importance of coaching continuity. The top four teams were Woodside, Hampton, Phoebus and Bethel. Sexton was in his third year as Phoebus' head coach, but he is a former Phantoms assistant and the staff remained largely the same. Bubba Hooker was the Bruins' acting head coach but had been a part of Jeff Nelson's veteran staff for five years.

"When you've got continuity and establish expectations, the wins and losses will take care of themselves," Martin said. "As long as you have the right person in place."

From 1987-97, Kecoughtan had that person in Curt Newsome. In his 11 seasons, the Warriors were 7-3 or better eight times and made six playoff appearances. In '97, they lost in the Division 6 championship game.

But since Newsome left, Kecoughtan has had five different coaches — the same as Menchville. The Warriors haven't had a winning season since 2005; they haven't played in the postseason since '02.

"When you look at a lot of teams that have struggled, it's been an issue of continuity," Dodson said. "It takes time to build something. And if you don't give it time, with the same people in charge, it's hard. Since I've been at Woodside, I don't know how many coaches I've seen come and go."

In fact, the Peninsula District has had 33 coaching changes since Dodson was hired in '99.

While Woodside is Kecoughtan's model, other programs are starting to see progress thanks to staff continuity. Warwick has finished 6-5 in each of Juan Jackson's three seasons, but the Raiders return starting quarterback Josh Butler and a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in Cardon Johnson.


"This is my first senior class coming up, and we're seeing the benefits of the kids being in the program for four years," Jackson said. "They see the entire scheme offensively and defensively. The more continuity you have in your coaching staff, the more consistency you have in philosophy and policy."

Gloucester went 3-7 in Sonny Merchant's fourth season, its best finish since 2005. But the big news is that the Dukes' JV team finished 7-2, which has folks across the Coleman Bridge optimistic.

"Sonny has some good things going on there," Dodson said. "His JV program the last couple of years has been pretty good, and it's starting to make a difference."


Name, school;Years;Record

1. Mike Smith, Hampton;41;428-69-2

2. Danny Dodson, Woodside;13;80-59

3. Marcellus Harris III, Denbigh;4;13-27

Sonny Merchant, Gloucester;6-34

5. Juan Jackson, Warwick;3;18-15

Stan Sexton, Phoebus;3;43-2

7. Bubba Hooker, Bethel;1;7-4*

8. George Massenburg, Heritage;1;3-7

Melvin Moore, Menchville;1;2-8

10. Alonzo Coley, Kecoughtan;first season

*—Was technically acting head coach