As the new head coach at a parochial school in South Carolina, Doug Dutton, ’92, taps the lessons from a star-studded career to help teach his football players.
Southern football — much has been written and said about the passions and rivalries that drive gridiron action each fall. With its thrilling last-second Hail Marys, underdogs and legacy-building coaches, it’s almost has the makings of a Shakespearean drama.
Good thing Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia, S.C., has Indiana State University alumnus — and English literature major — Doug Dutton as its head football coach to take in and appreciate all the poetic justice.
“On Saturday, it’s a Clemson or USC flag,” Dutton said, who admits to mistaking “USC” for the University of Southern California rather than the University of South Carolina. In the Palmetto State, fans are quick to point out South Carolina was founded in 1801, whereas Southern Cal didn’t come along for another 79 years.
“It’s not just football — if there’s a sport going on, it’s the talk of the town,” he said.
Dutton spent 12 years in Fort Lauderdale coaching football and working as consultant for the Bommarito Performance System, a training program that prepares athletes for the NFL scouting combine.
“In south Florida, there’s a huge football, but not a singular focus like there is here,” he said.
Dutton, however, isn’t complete immune to fan loyalty, as he said, “My father is a dyed-in-wool Illinois fan” — an affliction Dutton jokes that he’s been trying to cure him of for years.
While Dutton, who is also known as the dean of discipline at the parochial school, doesn’t have his players reciting soliloquies from “Julius Caesar,” he does insist his students apply themselves academically — especially in English class.
“One of the key factors of success in any venture is the ability to communicate,” either verbally or in writing, Dutton said. “That fact is sometimes lost in today’s world.”
Many students don’t see themselves going to college and don’t realize the harsh reality it’s likely they’ll need to go pro in something other than football. That’s where athletics, however, can become the proverbial carrot.
“It’s a great way to reach students who may be more difficult to reach,” he said. “Without sports and that motivation, they wouldn’t have been able to even consider going to college.”
Dutton of Mahomet, Ill., set his sights high early on in life. “I knew what I wanted to do when I got into school. My goal at a young age was to be a college coach,” he said.
With both of his parents working as educators — and his father, a high school coach — they suggested a liberal arts education would be a flexible option.
Indiana State recruited him heavily, as did a couple of other schools.
“I liked Coach (Dennis) Raetz a lot — his message struck a chord with me and my parents,” he said. From 1987 to 1992, he played on the defensive line and started in 33 games.
Dutton speaks fondly of Terre Haute, a place where he spent his young adulthood and matured. After graduating, he returned to Indiana State as an assistant coach, 1993-1996 and 1998-2000.
“It taught me a lot. I obviously learned a lot about the game of football. I have some great friendships from there — tremendous people and tremendous memories,” he said.
Dutton signed with the Phoenix Cardinals as a free agent in 1992, but ultimately didn’t make the cut. “I was good enough to practice, but not good enough to play,” he said.
Before being promoted to head coach, Dutton was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator in 2013 — also the team’s best season since 1998. The defense gave up 271 yards and 19.4 points per game, an improvement of nearly 79 yards and 14 points per game from the 2012 season.
An arrangement he describes as the best of both worlds, Dutton has also maintained his connection with Bommarito and takes a month off each year to work with the athletes there, racking up alumni including 40-50 of the current NFL players.
“It gives me a chance to be connected to that level without the tension and time commitment,” he said.
Dutton, who is being assisted at Cardinal Newman by former NFL player Michael Boulware, says their experiences at such high levels are valuable learning experiences.
“I’ve been in a position to be around a lot of really successful people,” he said and hopes to capitalize on those lessons to help his players reach their dreams. “The biggest thing is in the end if you can help people. You have to back (up impressive credentials) with some substance.”
And while it looks like his childhood dream of being a college coach is on hold for now, he relishes the opportunity to tuck his son, 11, and daughter, 6, into bed each night.
“Coaching college football is a tremendous amount of fun, but there’s a lot that goes with that,” he said. “South Carolina is a neat place. It’s a great place for our family.”