High School Sports

A Coast coaching legend explains why he is making the 2019 season his last

Picayune coaching legend Dodd Lee has decided to make his 39th year as a football coach his last.

Lee told his team in the spring that the 2019 campaign would be his final go-round, but he waited until Thursday during a Kiwanis Club meeting to make it public.

When asked Friday on why he has decided to bring his extremely successful coaching career to a close, he explained that it all came down to family.

“Well, I don’t want to get too emotional, but my oldest grandson will be able to play varsity (football) next year,” Lee said. “I’ve got other grandsons who will play in junior high. It’s time for me to go out to pasture and watch them.”

East Central High School football head coach Seth Smith is married to Lee’s daughter, Devin. The oldest of their four sons, Tucker, recently began his freshman year at the Hurley school.

Lee admits that he has considered moving to Hurley after the season to be closer to family.

“I have thought about it, but I know I am going to be there when they’re playing,” he said.

Smith looks forward to having his kids spend more time with their grandfather.

“To me, it shows what kind of grandfather he is,” Smith said of Lee’s decision to retire. “I’ve known him for a long time. If he’s a Hall of Fame football coach, he’s a Hall of Fame grandfather.”

The last year has been especially trying for Lee and his entire family after his daughter, Tabatha, died at the age of 40 in a single-vehicle wreck in Mobile County in February.

Smith has watched as Lee has gone about his work while dealing with tragedy.

“He has handled it with grace,” said Smith, who is in his seventh year as the ECHS head coach. “He’s a man of great faith. He knows God has a plan.”

Lee, who has twice led the Maroon Tide to a state championship, is entering his 24th season as the head coach at Picayune. He has a 209-70 career mark at Picayune and is 251-101 overall in a career that includes stops as the head coach at East Central and Bay High.

“Head coaching is a young man’s game. You get tired,” Lee said. “You put in a lot of hours and you put a lot of soul into it. Sometimes, it takes more out of you than you can put in. You need young leaders that the kids can look up to. It’s time for me to go on.”

Lee has pondered the prospect of retiring over the last couple of years and he acknowledges that the decision to walk away from the game isn’t an easy one.

“It’ll get more difficult as the year goes on,” he said. “This has been my livelihood for 39 years. It’s not going to be easy.”

For Lee, the hardest part will be missing out on the competition.

“I’m going to miss the locker room and being around the kids on big Friday nights,” he said. “There’s nothing like a big game on a Friday night. The week that leads up to it is magical.”

Picayune is the No. 3 team in the Sun Herald’s Preseason Top 5 and expected to again be in the hunt for a Class 5A state championship. The Maroon Tide finished 11-4 a year ago and came up one game short of reaching the state title game.

In 2019, Lee believes he has another championship contender.

“They’re a very special group,” he said. “The best players are the hardest workers. That’s what really makes it fun.

“I told them in the spring that this would be my last year. I don’t know if it set in with them or not. It probably won’t set in until it’s over.”

Even though Lee is bringing his career to a close, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t lost his competitive nature.

“Oh my gosh, yeah. I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “I get as excited as ever. I still coach as hard as ever. I never have a problem not being unmotivated. Shoot, I want to give these kids all I’ve got.

“I won’t handle them any different. I’ll be more demanding than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.