MENTORING & ADVICE

20 Most Influential High School Football Coaches

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

In some rare and memorable instances, a high school coach will impact the game outside of his own region or state. He might do that by innovating a new scheme or coaching style, changing the way coaches approach strength and conditioning, or perhaps even inspiring others through a commitment to excellence.

FNF Coaches and USA Football put together a list of 20 current or former coaches who are considered some of the most influential leaders in the profession. Some are USA Football Masters Trainers, while others have demonstrated leadership on a national level.

Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher

Maine-Endwell High (N.Y.)

Gallagher has led M-E to four New York state championships in the last decade. In 2015, ESPN produced a 30 for 30 documentary on Gallagher’s program in the midst of a 62-game winning streak. Gallagher’s philosophy starts with building the pee-wee program that serves as a feeder system for his high school program. His staff attends practices, and helps install scaled-down plays and formations that are run at the high school level. Gallagher serves as a USA Football Heads Up Football Master Trainer for Section 4 coaches in New York.

Dave Keel

Homestead High (Wisc.)

Keel spent 30 seasons as the head football coach at Homestead before resigning before the 2020 season. That ended a career that included 292 victories, an .807 winning percentage and six state championships. Keel leaves with a record of 292-70 and ranks 10th all-time in the state in coaching victories. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association inducted him into its hall of fame in 2012. In addition to his work on the sidelines, Keel was the president of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association from 2007-09. Keel is a USA Football Master Trainer and member of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

John Roderique

Webb City High (Mo.)

Since returning to his alma mater at Webb City, Roderique has led the team to a record of 286-26. He has guided the Cardinals to 11 MSHSAA state championships and 14 championship game appearacnces. The Cardinals have reached the Missouri state playoffs in 21 of the last 23 seasons (including the last 19 seasons in a row). Roderique has been named Missouri State Coaches Association Coach of the Year 11 times. Roderique was enshrined into the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Joplin Area Sports Authority Hall Fame in 2016. 

Gary Swenson

West Des Moines Valley High (Iowa)

Swenson, who recently finished his 45th season, has accumulated 371 career wins, currently the fourth-most all-time in Iowa. He has coached teams to six state titles, tied for the third-most all-time, and one of three to win championships at two different schools (five at Valley, and one at Spencer in 1994). Following this season, he was named Iowa Class 4A Coach of the Year by the Iowa Football Coaches Association for the fourth time in his career. Swenson is Iowa’s only Master Trainer for USA Football Heads Up Football.

Jimmy Wallace

York High (S.C.)

Wallace spent 40 years coaching football at four York County high schools including York (1972-75), Rock Hill (1975-1981), Lewisville (1981-1986), and Northwestern (1987-2011). He also served as an athletic administrator for 25 years and has been inducted into six Halls of Fame including York County Sports Hall of Fame (2003), Northwestern Sports Hall of Fame (2011), South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame (2011), Lewisville Athletic Hall of Fame (2014), South Carolina Football Coaches Hall of Fame (2015), and the South Carolina Athletic Administration Hall of Fame (2019). He led teams to state championships in 1983, 1989, 1993 and 2010 and logged a career record of 286-83.

Kevin Lynott

Middletown High (Md.)

In nine seasons as the varsity football coach at Middletown High (Md.), Lynott elevated an established football power. Under Lynott’s guidance, the Knights won their first three state championships during a sensational run from 2011-13 that also included 36 consecutive wins. In nine seasons as Middletown’s varsity coach, Lynott went 86-27. He oversaw a program resurgence in 2016 when the Knights finished 9-3 and bounced back from their only losing seasons under Lynott. Prior to being hired in January 2008, Lynott spent five seasons as the varsity football coach at Brunswick High School, where he went 26-27.

Steve Specht

Cincinnati St. Xavier (Ohio)

Specht has been the head coach at his alma mater since 2003. Under Coach Specht, the Bombers have won four Ohio big school championships (2005, 2007, 2016, 2020), with Specht earning Ohio Division I Coach of the Year honors in 2005 and 2007. Specht received the NFL Don Shula High School Coach of the Year Award in 2013. Specht, who has a career record of 157-57, has established a culture of winning with “The Long Blue Line” serving as a pathway between current players and alumni. He is also a USA Football Master Trainer and has coached in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Jason Mohns

Saguaro High (Ariz.)

Saguaro is 102-13 since Mohns took over the program in 2012. Mohns’ overall record, counting two years leading Salt River, is 110-21. He is partly responsible for the program’s consistent excellence since the mid-2000s with his youth team, the Argonauts, who fed Saguaro football. Saguaro reached the state final every season from 2013 to 2019, winning six in a row, before the 4A school was placed in the first-time Open Super Eight Division last year. They lost to 6A powerhouse Chandler 42-35 in the championship game. He has coached the U-16 and U-19 USA Football U.S. National Teams.

Randy Allen

Highland Park (Texas)

Allen is one of just three coaches in Texas history with 400 career wins. Allen, who recently completed his 47th year of coaching, 40 as a head coach, also held stints at Ballinger, Brownwood and his alma mater, Abilene Cooper. Allen has led teams to four state championships and was named the Don Shula National Coach of the Year for 2016. This past summer, he led a movement in which coaches provided statistics to the University Interscholastic League to prove that the spread of the coronavirus could not be attributed to football workouts.

Bruce Rollinson

Mater Dei High (Calif.)

Rollinson is heading into his 31st year as head coach at Mater Dei. He has won over 300 games, taken teams to the CIF finals 13 times, and triumphed to seven CIF championships, three state titles, four times finished the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country (1994, 1996, 2017, 2018). Rollinson is proud of the Monarchs 4 Marines program which lends tangible support to Marines, Sailors and their families. This past June, the Monarchs traveled to Camp Pendleton for the 13th consecutive year.

Kevin Kelley

Pulaski Academy (Ark.)

In December, Pulaski Academy won its ninth state title — all of which have come with Kelley at the helm. The title also is Kelley’s ninth, the most for any head coach in the playoff era and one behind the legendary Wilson Matthews, who won 10 from 1947 through 1957 at Little Rock High and Central. Kelley is renowned for never punting and almost always onside kicking after scoring. He was even called ‘probably the top high school coach in the country’ in a press conference by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Chuck Kyle

Cleveland Saint Ignatius (Ohio)

Kyle has directed the Wildcats to a record of 361-99-1, 30 playoff appearances, 15 regional championships and 11 state titles in his 38 seasons. In 2016, he was inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Hall of Fame. The same year, the Cleveland Browns hired Kyle as a youth football advisor to help with the team’s youth football programs. In 2009, he was named the head coach of the United States’ first Under-19 national football team, which competed and went undefeated in the International Federation of American Football Junior World Championship, the first event of its kind.

Roger Harriott

Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.)

In his five full seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas, Harriott has led the team to three state championships (2015, 2016, 2019). His team finished as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation by GEICO in 2019 after posting a 15-0 record. Prior to accepting the position at St. Thomas Aquinas in 2015, Harriott spent eight seasons at University School, finishing with a 78-15 record and Class 3A state title in 2012. Harriott is a graduate of St. Thomas and played football at Boston University. He became the head coach at University School in 2006 and stayed there until resigning to join the staff at FAU. 

Rob Busmente

Sterling High (Colo.)

Busmente has turned Sterling into a perennial contender. Sterling has been to the playoffs in five of the past six seasons, including a trip to at least the quarterfinals in 2015, 2016 and 2019. In 2019, Busmente led Sterling to the first state championship in the history of the program — which dates to at least 1908 — when the Tigers claimed the Class 2A title. Busmente was voted the 2A coach of the year by his peers as part of the All-State teams. He was also selected as the 2019 Denver Broncos high school football coach of the year.

Matt Land

Dalton High (Ga.)

Land was the recipient of the 2019 Don Shula NFL Coach of the Year Award. Prior to serving as head coach, he spent 17 years at Dalton High as an assistant coach after playing for the Catamounts in high school. In his 11 years as head football coach before resigning in December, Land led the Catamounts to three region championships and eight playoff appearances with an 80-43 record. The 2016 Catamounts finished 13-1 and reached the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs.

John T. Curtis

John Curtis Christian High (La.)

John T. Curtis, the only coach John Curtis Christian has ever had, recently completed his 52nd year as head coach of the Patriots with 597 career wins. With an average of 12 wins per year during his career, Curtis will likely join the late John McKissick of Summerville (S.C.) with over 600 wins. McKissick, who passed away on Nov. 28, 2019, retired in 2014 with 620 all-time wins. Curtis went 0-10 in his first year as a head coach but won his first state title in just his seventh season. Since then, he has put together 13 undefeated seasons.

Mike Grant

Eden Prairie High (Minn.)

Grant took over as football coach at Eden Prairie in 1992 and has led the program to 11 state championships. His record over the last 24 seasons at Eden Prairie is 311-32. Grant has received acclaim not only on the local level, such as earning numerous coach of the year nods and being named the Star Tribune’s 2014 Sportsperson of the Year, but also on the national stage. He was recognized as the NFL’s National High School Coach of the Year at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014.

Troy McAllister

Chicago Wendell Phillips Academy (Ill.)

McAllister led Phillips to the only two state football titles (2015, 2018) in Chicago Public League history. After the second state title, McAllister was honored as one of two national winners of the Gatorade Coaching Excellence Award. Phillips, listed with an enrollment of 575 students on the IHSA website, is the only Chicago Public League team in the history of the IHSA state football playoff system schools to win a state football title. The Wildcats won a Class 4A title in 2015 and a 5A state title in 2017. They volunteered to play “up” in enrollment to Class 6A.

Bob Beatty

Louisville Trinity High (Ken.)

With 14 state championships and an 87-6 record, Beatty’s playoff resume in 21 seasons as Trinity High School’s football coach has few blemishes. He was inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. The one goal remaining on Beatty’s list of lifetime achievements is is to be named Trinity’s teacher of the year for his classroom work in health and physical education. At press time, Beatty seemed to have Trinity in prime position to win a 15th state championship under his leadership. Trinity (9-0) – ranked No. 1 in Class 6A – advanced to face No. 3 Male (8-1) in the state final. 

Gary Rankin

Alcoa High (Tenn.)

Rankin has since won 16 TSSAA state titles — more than any other coach in Tennessee high school football history — and he’s the state’s all-time coaching wins leader. Rankin also coached at Riverdale, where he won four 5A titles (1994, 1997, 2001, 2004), and Warren County before taking over Alcoa’s program in 2006. During Rankin’s tenure, the Tornadoes have advanced to the state championship every year but two (2011-12), and they have won 11 titles. In December, Alcoa clinched its sixth consecutive state title by defeating Milan 35-0.