DENTON, Texas (AP) -Ever since Notre Dame's high-profile experiment with Gerry Faust fizzled and he was fired after the 1985 season, college programs haven't risked hiring a high school coach as head coach.
Until now.
North Texas has turned to Todd Dodge, who won four state championships in Texas over the last five seasons, to turn around a struggling program.
Faust blames himself for the gap.
``I just wish I would have done a better job for all the high school coaches,'' Faust said of his 30-26-1 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. ``There are a lot of great high school coaches that would make excellent coaches in college football.''
North Texas is gambling that Dodge is one of them. He was hired in December following perhaps the most successful five-season run of any high school coach in the country.
At Carroll High in Southlake, an affluent suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth, Dodge's teams went 79-1 in that span, with the sole loss coming by one point in a state title game.
``Myself and my staff do feel a very strong sense of representation for high school coaches,'' Dodge said.
Ohio State hired high school coach Paul Brown in 1941. During the 1970s, Maryland and Iowa both had coaches who came straight from the high school ranks.
But it has since become rare to make the leap from Fridays to Saturdays. Historians from the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation and the author of College Football Encyclopedia couldn't recall another coach making the leap in the last two decades.
Maybe it's fallout from Faust, who had seven undefeated seasons and won four mythical national titles in 18 seasons at Cincinnati Moeller. Or maybe athletic directors have grown gun shy in an era of multimillion dollar bowl payouts.
For whatever reason, college programs loathe trusting their cash cows to those untested at the college level. North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal said most of his peers consider the hiring of Dodge to be ``a pretty big leap of faith.''
Ex-coach Terry Bowden, a college football analyst for ABC, said even if Dodge is successful, he is unlikely to start a trend of programs hiring high school coaches.
``There are a lot of things involved in being a head coach in college that have nothing to do with X's and O's,'' said Bowden, who was a quarterbacks coach under Faust for one season. ``There is no on-the-job training. You better know what you are doing from Day One. You better have a 12-month calendar. You better have a short list and a long list of assistant coaches. You better understand recruiting. And you better have a good handle on what you are going to do once you have the job.''
Although Dodge insists he never wanted to be more than a high school coach, he has prepared for this moment for more than 25 years. He was a starting quarterback at Texas, where he played from 1981-85, and ranks ninth in career yards and touchdown passes in the Longhorns' record book.
He spent nearly 20 years as a high school coach, the last 13 as a head coach. Dodge also was the passing game coordinator at North Texas in 1992-93. He tutored quarterback Mitch Maher, who has more passing attempts, completions and yards than any quarterback in North Texas history.
His career skyrocketed in the last five years at Southlake Carroll. Even former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells came calling, considering Dodge as a possible NFL assistant.
One reason Dodge might be ready is because Southlake Carroll is a decent approximation of a small college program, Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Dodge is accustomed to dealing daily with the media. His teams played on national TV. More than 46,000 people were in Texas Stadium for a second-round playoff game last year.
The expectations in Southlake were sometimes ``out of kilter,'' Dodge said. Dodge might find less pressure at North Texas, Brown said.
``He doesn't have to go to the grocery store and know mama's mad because her son's not getting touches on Friday night,'' Brown said.
North Texas is a football afterthought in Texas, despite four straight trips to the New Orleans Bowl from 2001-04. The school dropped out of Division I-A after the 1982 season, not to return until 1995. North Texas lost 18 games in 2005 and 2006. Last season, the team averaged about 15,600 fans at five home games.
But Dodge has made them intriguing. Season ticket sales and booster club donations are each up about 80 percent.
Some will show up to see an innovative offensive coach whose system could provide a shortcut to success. Dodge's teams run a no-huddle spread with four wide receivers, a running back and a dual-threat quarterback.
Brown, who recruited Dodge's son, said Dodge's offense could hasten a North Texas turnaround.
``The system that he runs is a system that will get you there faster,'' Brown said. ``You can find receivers and quarterbacks and smaller running backs to fit that system faster than you can find big strong linemen to run over somebody.''
The best advice might come from those who have been there. Faust said he made two major miscalculations at Notre Dame: He didn't have the right chemistry with his staff and he wasn't tough enough on players because he thought they'd be more mature than high school players.
Jim Bradley, who went from a high school job to New Mexico State in the 1970s, echoed those remarks.
``The trust and the loyalty is more important sometimes than knowledge'' when it comes to assistants, Bradley said.
On both accounts, Dodge said he is prepared. Four of his nine assistants, including both coordinators, were with him at Southlake Carroll. And he feels more responsible for his college players, who require more attention, he said, than high school players.
Faust said he is rooting for Dodge to succeed in hopes that others might roll the dice with high school coaches. And the old Notre Dame coach had a few final pieces of advice for the latest coach to make the leap.
``I'd tell him, 'Don't change, just because you're going from one level to another,''' Faust said. ``And recruit quality kids. You don't win too often with bums.''

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