Texas coach on program’s first state championship: ‘It’s supposed to be fun’

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

Jim Ned High (Texas) third-year coach Matt Fanning never set a goal of winning a state championship for his staff and players. With all of the uncertainty and angst surrounding a fall season during a pandemic, Fanning made this season about one thing: having fun.

“We play music at practice; we keep it light,” Fanning said. “Our kids are disciplined, and they know the line of when it’s OK to crack a joke and when it’s time to get serious. We stay as positive as we can. We keep practice moving fast. We’ll stop practice to play a game or muster up some type of competition. We throw them a curveball two or three times a week so they know we’re human too. It’s supposed to be fun.”

That fun approach led to Jim Ned’s first state championship ever in December thanks to a 29-28 overtime thriller over Hallettsville High School at AT&T Stadium.

You won the championship game in overtime by going for 2 on the final possession. When did you decide to take that aggressive approach?

“It was really something we’ve talked about as a coaching staff and we’ve been comfortable with for years. In that situation, if we have 3 yards to win a ball game, that’s as good of an opportunity as we can get.”

You must have a lot of confidence in your offense?

“That’s part of it. Part of it played into the fact that it was going to be really difficult to defend them. You play out the scenario of kicking an extra point, and you still have to defend. We would have been playing offense again, so if you score another touchdown and kick a PAT, you give them an opportunity to go for 2. If it goes another overtime period, you have to go for 2 eventually. It seemed like a gutsy thing from the outside looking in, but for us, it just made sense.”

How have you changed the culture of Jim Ned football since you’ve been there?

“Coach (Jerod) Womack started the ball rolling, and we put our own spin on things. It’s a culture of hard work. It comes with organization and what we expect out of our kids. We try to do some things in practice to liven it up and make it more fun. We mentor the kids.”

What is your strength training philosophy?

“We work our kids. Every kid in the program runs a track workout during the athletic period. That’s the key to being successful at a small school level. Our kids love the weight room. We’ve got a simple philosophy. We build a base for strength and don’t focus on sport-specific exercises or over-complicate things. That’s my background — strength and conditioning — so it’s natural for me.”