DALTON, Ga. — Dalton High School football coach Matt Land is the 2019 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year.
Land, a 1988 Dalton graduate, has been the head coach for 10 seasons and has taken the Catamounts to eight playoff appearances, including a 2016 Class AAAAAA semifinal berth. He was nominated for the national award by the Atlanta Falcons after he was named the state's coach of the year, and last week, in voting by a distinguished nine-person panel, he was chosen from among 32 finalists as the Shula winner.
Named after the NFL's all-time winningest coach, the award, according to the NFL, is based on "character, integrity, leadership, dedication to the community, commitment to player protection and on-field success."
Land was honored at Sunday's Pro Bowl. He will receive $15,000 from the NFL Foundation, $10,000 of which will go to Dalton High's football program. He also gets to attend Sunday's Super Bowl LIV in Miami and walk the red carpet at NFL Honors, a two-hour prime-time awards special to air nationally Saturday night on Fox.
Land discussed winning the award and what it means to him, his family and those associated with the storied Catamounts football program with staff writer Lindsey Young.
Q: What does winning this national award say about the work you've done outside of the X's and O's of football?
A: "One of my comments when I got this job was that you don't have to make a decision between winning and building good young men. You can do both. One of the award panelists, Tony Dungy, said after winning the Super Bowl it wasn't about winning, it was about winning the right way. I don't want to just win a trophy. That would be empty. To me, my personal code says that would be a failure. We want to win, but also to build winning men. I know we've been able to do that at Dalton."
Q: How does this award reflect on your coaching staff and the coaching families at Dalton?
A: "I will take our staff against any in the country, because these guys love these young men and they want to see them be successful in life. That refreshes me every year and keeps me coming out. Our staff certainly shares in this. There's no way to be effective unless you have people working with you that are sold on the same vision you have. It's not just our coaches. It's our coaches' wives and families. They reach out and bring these young men into their homes."
Q: At what point do you consider a football team a success?
A: "Well, the great Valdosta coach Nick Hyder said it and we all copy him. He said, when you ask me what kind of team I have I will tell you in 20 years. That's when I know what kind of dads they are, what kind of citizens they are. In these times, so many of them come from homes where there isn't proper leadership. I'm far from perfect and would never claim to be, but I know the kind of people we are helping mold and it's a very rewarding thing."
Q: As part of the award you and your wife, Amy, get to attend the Super Bowl and participate in several pregame events. What are you looking forward to the most?
A: "It will be very satisfying, no doubt. We fly out Thursday and get to attend media day and have a few more appearances Friday. Saturday we get to attend the NFL Honors dinner, walk the red carpet and do all that stuff. That will be an interesting dynamic. Sunday we get to enjoy the game as a guest of the NFL. I've never been to a Super Bowl, so I have no idea what to expect. The best part is I get to do this with my wife. She's the reason I can do any of it, so for her to be with me for all these moments is the great thing."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.