Independence High football coach Tom Knotts said he is giving serious consideration to this being his final season coaching the Patriots.
Knotts coached eight seasons at Harding and 11 at West Charlotte. This is his eighth season at Independence, where he has won six state championships. His Patriots (1-0) will play a big game at rival West Charlotte (2-1) Friday.
“I think seven or eight years at one place is really enough for any coach or administrator,” Knotts said, not wanting to elaborate.
In his career, which includes a season as a Duke assistant, Knotts has developed a system of winning that is chronicled in a new book, “Gridiron Dynasties,” which profiles 12 of the nation's most successful high school programs.
What struck me were some of the differences between Knotts' program and the others. Independence's facilities don't compare and neither does its fan base.
Knotts assembled a program that once won 109 straight games and seven state titles without similar talent as most of his national peers (defensive coordinator Bill Geiler coached the 2004 champions while Knotts was at Duke). The most major-college recruits Independence has produced in a year under Knotts is three.
“If you listen to everybody else,” he said, “we recruited great people. We just had a good system and a good strength-training program that the kids bought into.”
Knotts has coached in 11 of the past 22 state championship games in North Carolina's largest classification. He said he looks around Charlotte and sees other teams doing a good job copying his blueprint.
“We used to think we had a system people hadn't figured out,” he said, “but now everybody is doing the same things. You can see other teams catching up. I'm fiddling around with things, trying to innovate, but at the same time, you don't want to fix something that ain't broke.”
Knotts has famously high expectations. When he arrived at Independence in 2000, the Patriots were mostly sophomores. He found a second-place trophy proudly displayed in the coaches' office. He walked into his first practice and had the team follow him to one end of the field. He threw that trophy over a fence.
“We weren't going to play for second place or third place or whatever they'd been,” Knotts said. “We thought we had the talent to take it up a notch and raise expectations.”
Independence went 15-1 in 2000 and won the first of that record seven straight state titles. The Patriots lost in the 2007 state final and now look to return. Knotts has been quiet about this team, which observers felt might not match up to past standards.
He doesn't question his team's talent. He's worried about its dedication.
“The winning atmosphere around here has created a kind of satisfied, lackadaisical attitude,” Knotts said. “Those guys in the early 2000s were so hungry. They would do anything to win. That's how we got the ball rolling.
“Now, there are people in the state that can beat us and are just as talented. I've seen teams in Charlotte that are as talented as us. So our team better realize that any given Friday we can get beat. I'd like to see them get the hunger back like we used to have.”