College football: Legendary DII coach Adam Dorrel ready for challenges of FCS at Abilene Christian
The winningest college football coach in America is 0-2.
This might sound like big trouble for a guy who went 76-8 his first six seasons with three national championships, and carried a 30-game winning streak into 2017. So let’s get Adam Dorrel on the phone to see where his mood ranks on the bad-o-meter.
Adam Dorrel? New coach at Abilene Christian. He built the best winning percentage in the nation in those six glorious years at Northwest Missouri State. Which, by the way, is his alma mater. It’s located in Maryville, Missouri. Which, by the way, is his hometown.
Dorrel left his roots this season to move from Division II to Abilene Christian and lead its journey into the FCS. His first two games were against FBS opponents, so never mind that 30-game winning streak. It ended 38-14 at New Mexico, followed by 38-10 at Colorado State. Welcome to the new world.
“I think subconsciously I got myself ready for that a little bit, not that we weren’t trying to win those games,” he said over the phone from Abilene. “But I won’t lie, it was a little challenging walking off that field in New Mexico. It’d been three years since I’ve been on the other end of that deal. But it’s what’s to be expected. I’m all right with that as long as we’re getting better.”
Yes, Dorrel did have to search his mind to figure out what to say in a losing locker room. It’d been awhile, and a guy can forget. “I hope our program one of these days — and I think we’re going to get there — is one where FBS schools are going `Oh no, why did we schedule those guys?’ That’s where we want to get.”
Abilene Christian went 5-17 the past two years. So why is Dorrel enduring the inevitable rebuilding pains in Texas, when he could be stacking up more wins back where he grew up?
“Obviously every day is a challenge, compared to where I was at,” he began. “I had been there so long, and I hate to use this, but it was almost like everything was on auto-pilot there. For me, that’s why I wanted a professional change, because I don’t like feeling comfortable. I just was starting to feel comfortable, and — I hate using this word, too — complacent.”
Still, it couldn’t have been easy, seeing Maryville and a lot of family in his rearview mirror.
“It was extremely hard because there’s so many people there that I love, and so many people there that helped raise me. It was very hard to leave my mother and father, especially at the age they are. But I’m just one of those guys, I’m not scared of failure. I don’t want to have any regrets. I felt a calling here. There’s good people here. These folks are hungry to win. If I was going to pick up and move my family this checked all the boxes.
“How many times do you see guys who can’t even get a foot in the door in Texas because they’re not a native Texan? At the end of the day I said I’m not going to look back when I’m 65 and go, what if? If I want to get where I want to go professionally, this had to be a step.”
One of the prices will likely be his spot at the top of winning percentage among all active college coaches. He was just ahead of Urban Meyer, who has had his own bad days lately.
To Dorrel, being No. 1 meant . , .
“I know I’ve said that to people before and they’ve looked at me like, `yeah, right.’ You'd have to know me to understand. I was a walk-on offensive lineman, I grew up in a little town, I played Division II football. My first year of playing college football, we were 0-11. When I’m gone, nobody’s going to remember that record. Somebody’s always going to be better than that. What I care about is when I’m gone, kids go `that guy loved me, he helped my life, he helped push me to be better, he taught me about passion and grit.’
“That record doesn’t mean anything to me. That stuff is going to come and go. That passion players feel for you, that’s the real stuff. That’ll be there through the test of time.”
So here he is, transplanted from the northwest corner of Missouri to west Texas, and there are still occasional wrong turns from directions he misunderstands. “When you talk to Texans,” he said, “they forget sometimes how big their state is.”
Maryville had maybe 10,000 people. Abilene's population is 12 times larger. More restaurant options, Dorrel said of his new home. And a lot better weather in the winter.
Plus, for his home debut Saturday against Houston Baptist, the school is christening new Wildcat Stadium, its first on-campus facility since the 1940s. Dorrel will have 25 family members there.
“It’s going to be a very exciting, energetic emotional night. It is why I came. I wanted the challenge to try to flip the program around. I wanted to be able to say, I did it at the Division II level, we can do it here. I love challenges in life.”