Dan Duff Happy To Be Back As Hixson Coach

He Returns To Wildcat Sideline After 12 Years At Rockmart

Friday, August 8, 2014 - by John Hunt

(This is the fourth in a series of preseason stories on new high school football coaches, or veteran coaches at a different school, and top players in the Chattanooga area)

The cupboard was bare when Dan Duff took over as head football coach at Hixson High School in 1996.

Things changed in a hurry and the results improved as the Wildcats won their first-ever region title before Duff packed up his stuff and headed south to coach at Rockmart in Georgia.

Well, the popular coach is back on the sideline at Hixson for the 2014 season, but things are in much better shape this time around than they were 18 years ago.

The Wildcats had their best season a year ago when they won District 6-AA with a 5-1 record and finished with nine wins in 13 games.  They advanced to the third round of the playoffs before losing to Knoxville Catholic, 14-13.

Coach Jason Fitzgerald has moved up the road to Meigs County and the Wildcats have the burden of replacing a large senior class, but Duff has all the confidence in the world that his troops have what it takes to continue being successful.

“I’m glad to be back,” Duff said with a smile earlier this week following a hot afternoon practice.

“I was at Rockmart for 12 years and we did a lot of good things while we were there, but it was time for me to move on. I wanted to come back to the Chattanooga area as my family is here, but I applied for every position that came open. The Central job was available but the Hixson job came open and it was offered to me first.

“Coaching at Hixson was my favorite time as a football coach. The people were fantastic and we created a lot of great relationships. I see the same thing now. The kids wanted to win the first time I was here, but they just didn’t know how. These kids know how, so our biggest battle will be fighting complacency. You have to keep fighting to maintain what we’ve accomplished,” the 51-year-old husband and father of two grown children continued.

“Despite losing a lot of seniors last year, we still have a lot of talent. It’s the little things we have to deal with, but if we can all jell as one unit, we have the ability to accomplish great things,” Duff nodded.

Senior Preston Wilkey, who served as backup to Gill Brown a year ago, returns as the starter at quarterback. He will be lined up behind an experienced offensive line, which Duff calls the strength of his team.

“We’re behind in some areas, but we’re learning a lot of new things and I’m pleased with our progress most of the time. We have a good nucleus with a great senior class, but they’re the ones who have to lead us now.  It’s hard to say how we’ll do as competition in this district is real even.  We have the ability to beat anybody, but we can also get beat by anybody on any given Friday night,” Duff said.

“Every game is big around here and right now, I don’t know how they’ll respond. We still have a lot of work to do, but how we do depends on how much we can grow up.  With a target on our backs or not, we still have to go play. I just want to be in a place that wants to win and that’s the case at Hixson,” the popular coach concluded.

Dan and Donna have been married for 29 years.  Josh is 26 while Paige is 22.  Duff admits that he loves spending time with his family, but he also enjoys a little fishing when time allows.  Another passion of his has been his time as a Sunday School teacher where he taught a college-age class.

The Wildcats open the new Duff campaign on Aug. 22 at Soddy-Daisy. Other non-district games include South Pittsburg, Bradley and Livingston Academy.

Hixson has been picked at the top of District 6-AA, but the Wildcats will have to face big challenges from East Ridge and Tyner.

Coach Duff has faced challenging situations before and he’s ready for another. If all falls into place, the Wildcats could have another successful season and make another deep run in the playoffs.

Saturday: Meigs County coach Jason Fitzgerald.

(E-mail John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)

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