Dirk Wedd landed his dream job and reached the pinnacle of his coaching career on Tuesday when Lawrence High named him the 20th head football coach in the school's illustrious history.
Wedd, an all-state center for the Lions in 1969 a year after playing for legendary coach Al Woolard's final LHS team, had been an assistant for the Lions since 1990.
During that time the Lions posted an 84-17 record with five Class 6A state titles.
"Not very many people can say they dreamed about it and fulfilled a dream," the 47-year-old Wedd said of his new job. "That's very special."
Wedd, who was introduced at an afternoon press conference at the school, is the first LHS product or in-district candidate to be named the Lions' head football coach since Elmer Schaake in 1938.
"I know I went in (for the interview) so prepared and I felt confident I could get the job," Wedd said.
Wedd's resume includes stints at Pratt Junior College, where he was a football assistant and head baseball coach, and at Wichita State, where he was an assistant football coach until the WSU program folded in 1984.
Wedd was a finalist for the Free State High head position in 1997 and the Manhattan High head position in 1998.
"I thought maybe I'm going to be an assistant coach for a long, long time," Wedd quipped.
Wedd said having no head coaching experience in football shouldn't have been a factor.
"The first 10-11 years of my coaching were at the college level," said Wedd, who was an all-district center for Emporia State in 1974. "College coaching is not a seasonal thing. I was doing it from the time I woke up in the morning until I went to bed 12 months out of the year. That experience sometimes is much greater than being a high school head coach."
"He took a chance on hiring an assistant coach who had never coached in high school his whole life," Wedd said. "That's a special person."
Earlier this spring, Purdy announced his retirement after nine seasons.
Since Purdy's April 26 announcement, all of the Lion assistants rallied behind Wedd in hopes he would be promoted.
"All along I knew that's who I wanted to get it, not only for selfish reasons, but because I thought he was the best for Lawrence High," LHS assistant Scott Stidham said.
"I don't think there were very many coaching staffs that would come over to a person's house at one in the morning," Wedd said. "They visited about what they could do to help along the process. That's a special group that means a lot to me."
The Lions will return three offensive starters and four defensive starters from last year's 5-5 team. LHS has posted a 9-10 record since the arrival of Free State, the city's second high school. The Lions lost a total of 10 games from 1987 to 1996.
Wedd is anxious to restore LHS football to its glory years.
"This community thinks that's OK for right now, but I think they expect a lot more than 5-5," Wedd said. "I think the bar is slowly being raised back to where it was. Our mission is to get it back to where it was."
Wedd doesn't foresee any wholesale changes this fall and will stick with the option offense.
"I'm an option football coach ... always have been," he said. "We need to keep all those great athletes the other teams have off the field. The way you do it is by controlling the football. When people start shoving those eight-, nine-man fronts on us, we'll definitely have to throw. The biggest difference is that we'll roll out more."
Senior-to-be Bryce McMichael, the likely No. 1 quarterback for the Lions this fall, was pleased by Wedd's promotion.
"He knows all of us," McMichael said. "He knows the plays we run. Coach Wedd is a great motivator and knows how to get you fired up for the game. It'll be an easy transition. Coach Purdy and Wedd worked well together."
With the head football job, Wedd will relinquish his duties as the Lions' head baseball coach. He compiled a 43-24 record with two state playoff berths in three years.
"The time commitment is so demanding in football these days," LHS athletics director Ron Commons said. "Being the head coach of two sports is not conducive to being able to devote all the necessary time to make the program work."
Other candidates for the football job were Conway Springs High head coach Mark Bliss, Emporia High head coach Mark Luedtke, Shawnee Mission Miege head coach Paul Brown and Liberal assistant Shane Taylor.
"There were a lot of great candidates," Wedd said. "The confidence shown in me is special."
Wedd's wife, Gwen, his son, Shane, and daughter, Lora, attended Tuesday's media session. Gwen, also an LHS alum, teaches at South Junior High. Shane and Lora are both LHS products and current Kansas University students.
"Next to her (Gwen) giving birth to Shane and Lora, this a very special day for our family," Wedd said. "It's been a family affair with red and black with Lawrence High. I know the product that's been produced out of the school is very special because I see it every day."
Wedd's mother, Shirley, also attended the festivities.
"There's not a greater fan," Wedd said. "She comes to games to watch me coach. I never thought I was that entertaining."
-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone message number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org