DRESDEN, Tenn. — When Keith Hodge made his intentions known Wednesday that he would be resigning his position as head football coach at Murray High, he did not want to discuss publicly his future plans.
Thursday, those plans did become known and it is a familiar place where he will land. Hodge is returning to the head coaching position at Dresden High School in nearby Dresden, Tennessee, the place from where Hodge came to coach Murray High the past seven seasons.
“It was not like this was months in the making or something like that. This happened fast,” Hodge said about how the wheels began turning on Monday. That is when Dresden’s head coach, Wes Johnson, decided to accept the head coaching position at McNairy Central in Selmer, his home area.
“So (Dresden’s) coach left and there were discussions and I’m still really close to the administration there. You develop bonds, just like I have at Murray, but you develop that special bond with a lot of people and, when you develop those relations, those contacts, over the years, you don’t lose them.”
Hodge said the sequence of events evolved over about 48 hours, ending with his resignation from the Tigers’ post on Wednesday.
“In those 48 hours, some discussions started and we came to an agreement on some things and I just felt like if (returning to Dresden) was the right time, it was now,” said Hodge, who led the Lions to the Tennessee state semifinals and made numerous other playoff appearances during the five years before he came to Murray.
“That was a special group. They were all freshmen (his last season) and won the state championship three years later, after I was gone. We did have a lot of success and I remember that when I got to Dresden (after an assistant’s stint at McMinn County High School in Athens, Tennessee), I found that those kids were very impressive. They wanted to work and they wanted to win and we had some favorable scheduling and other things like that go our way in the early years that put us on a great path to having confidence, and, of course, after I left, they had tons of success.
“But Dresden has always been a group that’s had tough, hard nosed kids. Now, while I know a lot of people in Dresden, there are also a lot of new things that have come along. Then, there is this group of kids. I don’t know any of them, so I’ll have to figure out (the players’ strengths and weaknesses) real quickly, and in a hurry.”
Hodge said he will have a familiar face in the top administrative position at the school. One of his assistant coaches during his time leading the Lions is now the principal.
“When I was there, I was real close to him and I’m looking forward to working with him again,” he said.
Hodge’s Tiger teams never failed to reach at least the second round of the state playoffs. The Tigers’ most successful seasons were in 2014 and 2020. In both of those campaigns, Murray High reached the Class 2A West Sub-State title game, falling to Louisville DeSales in 2014 and Lexington Christian last year.
Hodge also leaves Murray High, having done something that endeared him to the Tiger faithful. The 2020 playoff run included the program’s first win over state superpower Mayfield since 1997.
And Hodge said leaving Murray High was not easy.
“Leaving kids ... there is never a right time for that,” he said Wednesday evening after informing the team of his decision. “And the coaching staff is unreal. I love them and they work extremely hard and they love Murray High football and I’ve learned so much about Murray High football.
“There was a lot of thought and prayer that went into this and it just felt right to do at this time and I think it is the best thing at the end of the day for everybody involved.”
Murray Independent School District Director of Athletics Ann Greenfield said Wednesday that the district was expected to begin developing a strategy on Thursday to find Hodge’s successor. In addition, the Tigers are also needing to fill an assistant’s position as defensive coordinator Clayton Morris also left the program on Wednesday to assume his first-ever head coaching position at West Carroll High School in Atwood, Tennessee.
This puts in place a potentially interesting situation for both Hodge and Morris as Dresden and West Carroll are in the same classification, meaning they could meet in the state playoffs.
“That would be real interesting, no doubt,” Hodge said. “I’m super proud of him and he 100% deserves a shot and I think he’ll do extremely well. He’s had other opportunities to return to where he’s from (Morris is a native of Gibson County, not far from Carroll County), so he’s a West Tennessee boy and I knew that, one day, he’d get his chance.”