Coppell ISD Athletic Director Kit Pehl has initiated several changes in his first three years as athletic director to set the stage for the future of Coppell athletics. Pehl’s vision of a harmonious athletic department as well as a prioritization of winning and growing student athletes has prompted several coaching changes and there remains a continual drive for growth, improvement and excellence within Coppell Athletics. (Olivia Cooper)
Coppell ISD Athletic Director Kit Pehl has initiated several changes in his first three years as athletic director to set the stage for the future of Coppell athletics. Pehl’s vision of a harmonious athletic department as well as a prioritization of winning and growing student athletes has prompted several coaching changes and there remains a continual drive for growth, improvement and excellence within Coppell Athletics.

Olivia Cooper

Out with the old, in with the new

Several changes initiated in Pehl’s three years sets stage for future of Coppell athletics

March 31, 2022

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A term that is often used to describe coaching and athletic changes across three levels of athleticism is quite literally what Coppell athletics has been experiencing in its recent history. 

Everything from coaches to programs to facilities to community interaction and even social media has dramatically been changed in Coppell and there remains a continual drive for growth, improvement and excellence. 

March 25 marks the three year anniversary of Coppell ISD Athletic Director Kit Pehl’s promotion to athletic director from boys basketball coach and assistant athletic director and, in those three years, Pehl’s implementation and continuation of a vision for a harmonious athletic department has driven almost all of his decisions from coaching changes and upgrading facilities to social media and branding. 

More specifically, Pehl’s paradigm stems from two things: winning and growing student athletics. Even as important as winning is, it is not more important than providing student athletes with rich, positive and well-rounded experiences. However, providing student athletes with crucial life skills and mentorship is not more important than winning, either. It is the middle ground of the two, where winning on and off the field is happening simultaneously where Pehl’s vision comes alive.

I want an athletic department that is harmonious”

— Coppell ISD Athletic Director

“I want a group of head coaches that are growing assistants, that support each other and have a common vision for the entire athletic department overall as well as individually within each of the programs,” Pehl said. “The common thread that I want in every sport is I want head coaches that give our kids the best chance to be successful year round.”

It only takes one look at the history of several Coppell athletic programs to see the implementation of Pehl’s vision. Since Pehl’s hiring, there has been an enormous influx of coaches that embody Pehl’s mindset and an exodus of coaches who have moved on for personal reasons, coaching opportunities, life circumstances and other reasons. 

Of all the coaches in the Coppell athletics staff directory, only a handful of head coaches were present prior to the Pehl era. To name a few, Coppell boys soccer coach James Balcom and Coppell boys basketball coach Clint Schnell lead the veteran leadership in team sports while Coppell wrestling coach Chip Lowery and Coppell tennis coach Richard Foster lead the veteran leadership in individual sports.  

Other sports such as girls soccer, girls basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, football, swimming and diving, track and field as well as cross country have all acquired new head coaches that will push Pehl’s vision to the future of Coppell athletics. 

Many factors can make a coaching job in CISD appealing. The first thing is that Coppell is a one high school city and with a one high school school district, you have the ability to rally an impassioned community behind you. Other factors that play into the attraction of a Coppell coaching job include prime Metroplex location, outstanding education, a place to raise your kids with proper peers and mentors, solid coaching stipends and, according to Pehl, outstanding scheduling for teachers and coaches. 

Pehl’s most prominent hire has been Coppell football coach and boys athletic coordinator Antonio Wiley, who was hired on Feb. 25. 

By bringing in a coach of Wiley’s caliber, Pehl’s intention to start a new football era is clear. 

Wiley’s 15 years of rich coaching experience comes with a plethora of knowledge, especially about the postseason where he coached safeties to a state championship and a state runner-up in two title games at Lake Travis before coaching Wichita Falls Hirschi to a state semifinal for the first time since 1964 last year, and he has already planned several changes to hit the ground running in the Coppell football program. 

This place can grow into one of the giants in this area”

— Coppell football coach Antonio Wiley

“This place has so much potential and I hate that word because it means you haven’t done it yet, but I truly believe that if we can get it right and I surround myself with great men who can have the same vision and we all bow the boat in the same direction, we could be a marquee program here in the heart of the Metroplex, that one-horse town that sits in the middle of multi-high school districts that everybody wants to be like in the near future,” Wiley said.

Initially, questions were raised about why Wiley decided to leave Wichita Falls Hirschi after growing that program into one of the favorites to win the 4A Division II this year but, according to Wiley, his choice in coming to Coppell lies in the fine margins. Wiley built Hirschi into a 4A power and wants to do the same at Coppell.

Wiley has been instrumental to several program turnarounds in his career. In his first year as Lewisville’s defensive coordinator, the Fighting Farmers went 2-8 but, in his second year, the Fighting Farmers went 9-3 before bowing to eventual state runner-up Duncanville in the playoffs. At Hirschi, the Huskies were 5-5 in Wiley’s first year, 6-4 in his second and 12-3 before bowing out to Stephenville in the state semifinals in his third and final year. 

In that sense, Coppell is the prime opportunity for Wiley to continue his knack for turning around programs. This year marked the end of former Coppell football coach Mike DeWitt’s eight-year tenure as Coppell’s football coach. Despite being the winningest coach in Coppell history with a 10-3 record in 2016 and 11-2 record in 2017 as well as deep playoff runs each year, DeWitt’s time at Coppell ended by missing the playoffs twice in the past three years.

According to Wiley, his athletes were hungry for a change and Wiley, with his track record of success, was just the guy that Pehl and the rest of CISD’s leadership team thought could spark the Cowboys and provide a change in culture, a change in voice, a change in coaching and a change in heart. 

Wiley’s plan for the future of Coppell football is emphasized in his desire to make the Cowboys mentally and physically tough. Highlighted by the phrase ‘tough people win’ picked up in his short stint at Mesquite Poteet, Wiley’s message to his kids remains ‘get comfortable with being uncomfortable’ and ‘prepare for the moment.’  

His first step is to teach his returning players how to be leaders on and off the field and to foster relationships that will enable his athletes to become great men as well. 

“We have an environment here, ‘are we friends or are we family?’,” Wiley said. “I need them to be the guys that are willing to treat this like a family and go in and say you know what, you’re not holding the rope. I’m going to hold their feet to the fire and make sure I’m getting everything the absolute most I can get out of those guys, as we go into the season. Athleticism is great, but there’s a lot more to winning games than just being athletic.”

Coppell football coach Antonio Wiley coaches his Cowboys at CHS Fieldhouse on March 22. Wiley is one of many head coaches that Coppell ISD Athletic Director Kit Pehl has brought in to implement a vision of a harmonious athletic department. (Angelina Liu)

Shifting away from his responsibilities as football coach, Wiley and Coppell girls athletic coordinator Dr. Roxanne Long has plans to vertically align the middle school programs with the high school. Wiley wants to ensure that vertical alignment is seen in all sports and that middle school programs need to be smaller versions of what is taking place at the high school level.

“We’re going to make sure that our middle school programs are vertically aligned,” Wiley said. “I’m a firm believer in if you’re going to build a better program, you build it from the bottom up. You don’t build a program from the top down and say ‘hey, y’all learn what we do’. You teach them what you do. Vertical alignment is a big deal for me, and we’re going to make sure we get that taken care of.”

Despite only being at Coppell for a few weeks, Wiley’s eagle-eyed nature has already spotted some facility updates that he’d like to make. Because Wiley is a big fan of music, especially when working out, he wants to renovate the sound systems in the weight room and on Buddy Echols Field as well as introduce a sound system into the CHS fieldhouse. 

“I’m a guy that’s big on music, and being in it changes the mood of the environment, rather than dead silence out there,” Wiley said. “It changes the mood and the vibe of the whole environment and that’s what I’m looking for. It’s hard to do that when you don’t have the right sound system in place.”

When you’re working out, sometimes, kids get lost in the music and they’re working and they don’t even know that they’re working because they’re just having fun”

— Coppell football coach Antonio Wiley

In general, there are a couple of changes, all of which are bond dependent, that Pehl wants to initiate as well to renovate the facilities across CISD. The greatest priority for Pehl is the CHS Tennis Center. With demographic shifts correlating with an increase in the participation of tennis as well as swimming over recent years, CHS Tennis Center and the swimming situation has become overwhelmed with the influx of athletes.

Of the changes that could be made to CHS Tennis Center, Pehl would like to expand, add LED lights and create/renovate locker rooms that can substantially house the participants. Aside from tennis, Pehl is also exploring the possibility of acquiring a pool, at least one for district use that can be used for competitions. 

There are other minor changes that will need to be made as well, namely repairing the turf on Buddy Echols Field and maintaining the other fields across the district as well as part of a yearly maintenance plan..

However, Coppell remains in the top in terms of facilities, especially with the renovation of CISD Baseball/Softball Complex. Both Pehl and Wiley agree that, to remain in front of the arms race of facilities, you still have to maintain and renovate. With that being said, both Pehl and Wiley state that Coppell has some of the nicest facilities in Texas and maybe even in the country for a public high school. 

One of the main points emphasized by Wiley is respecting the media. In recent years, there have been moments after a game where student media and even professional media get turned away by coaches, players and parents but that is something Wiley will push to end.

“[The media] is going to do a job and y’all are supporting us; win, lose or draw, you guys are there and you’re supporting us and you’re fired up about Coppell football,” Wiley said. “I expect us, no matter how emotional because I know in those moments after a heated battle, and it’s a tough game, if you come up short, sometimes guys don’t want to talk but the nature of it is I’m going to tell them it’s not the media’s fault. All they want to do is get your perspective. Don’t be disrespectful. You do your interview in a professional manner and then, you go in and vent in the locker room. We don’t do that so that will be a point of emphasis for us. I will make sure that that’s something that I addressed the coaches and the players with because the nature of it is I expect us to always represent the program well no matter what. That image does not just stay here, it leaves here and that’s a big deal for me.”

Wiley’s changes to Coppell football are also coming visually as well. Wiley wants there to be a complete change in the image of Coppell football and first off that starts with what the players wear. Currently, Coppell is in an agreement with Nike and Nike provides Coppell athletic programs with a majority of the equipment and uniforms they need. 

Wiley, however, wants to go one step beyond. According to junior running back Michael Rodriguez, Wiley wants to get all Jordan Brand jerseys, a comment that was later confirmed by Wiley. Though the Jordan Brand jerseys will probably not happen this year because Coppell would need to get a waiver, Wiley confirmed that there are new jerseys and colorways on the way. 

Another visual element that is confidential but confirmed by Wiley is a new pregame run out and stadium walkout for the football team. Wiley wants to set the stage early by making it a big deal from the pregame, in-game and postgame scene to be a total experience for Coppell fans. 

“I want our fans to enjoy it,” Wiley said. “That’s the deal. I’ve been told that the fans don’t show up until like the games are already going a lot of times now. It becomes a big deal to be there in pregame because you see our kids and you get to watch the video.”

I want our fans to be ready to be there and cheer us on as soon as we show up so it’s us just flying around”

— Coppell football coach Antonio Wiley

Tying into Wiley’s plan for the future of fan experience is CISD’s partnership with 1Vision. With last year being 1Vision’s first official year at Coppell, there were alot of initial green flags about the possibilities that can stem from the partnership. 

“The interactivity that the student athletes get, the coaches get with what we do to enhance the game day atmosphere has received well,” 1Vision site producer for CISD Will Tyner said. “There’s a level of new and there’s a level of learning that both sides are doing; We’re learning to work with Coppell and Coppell is learning to work with us. Once we have our overall brand and overall plan out there we can move and adjust from there.

There’s a lot underway in terms of improvement already. 1Vision’s interactivity and production is based heavily on ad revenue. With Dunkin Donuts being the first international brand to support CISD as well as 1Vision, there has been attention directed towards pulling in other brands of that caliber. 

There have been two or three more brand sponsorships in the works according to Tyner but they will be revealed in the summer, going into the football season. When there’s more buy-in and ad revenue then there will be more video content pieces. There will be a lot more focus feature pieces recognizing someone inside CISD as well.

The greatest hurdle that 1Vision will tackle next to improve the fan experience is having more interactivity on the mobile app. Currently, 1Vision is building a mobile app, similar to ESPN, that will house all of its clips, highlights and content pieces. Once there is enough financial support, fans will start to see things like light shows at Buddy Echols Field or CHS Arena where the lights turn off and there’s a lightshow through the mobile app on people’ phones. The more interactivity that 1Vision receives on the app, the more it can do to make the fan experience better. Other features in the works with the mobile app are stats keeping software, content housing and supporting live streams. 

In 2021-22, 1Vision primarily worked with football, basketball and soccer, omitting sports like baseball, softball, golf, and tennis. Though 1Vision doesn’t plan to expand into those sports in the near future, having something for those sports is never out of the question depending on what the clientele want according to Tyner. 

1Vision currently uses KCBY-TV student staff in its production process and increasing those opportunities for students to join in are going to expand. One of KCBY-TV’s students is a liaison with 1Vision and can recruit other students to join in on the process as well.  

“It’s beneficial to get to know the students and it’s a give and take relationship,” Tyner said. “It’s been great getting to know them, and we’re ever growing. We’re learning something that we can do every year. The more that we work together, the more we can accomplish. It was a lot of fun, and I look forward to working more with them.”

Similarly, Coppell athletics is pushing the new sports information director internships to allow students to join the athletic department and push interaction between the high school and the athletic department. According to Pehl, the opportunities are limitless for student and athletic department interaction. 

“It’s going to be, ‘do we have enough kids that have an interest in doing it?’ and so I’m super excited about that,” Pehl said. “Most importantly, it’s giving folks a chance to be involved in something that they already have an interest in. It’ll be reflective in our community and so I’m really excited about those opportunities. We just need to make sure that the student body is aware of them and then each one of our sports has somebody that’s going to do a great job in that role.”

The community, Pehl, CHS Principal Laura Springer and the athletes have provided 1Vision with foundational support as well as critical feedback and the facilities at Coppell have truly allowed 1Vision to pilot its vision in the heart of the Metroplex.

From the parents of student athletes to the owners of businesses and the community; there was a lot of support around Coppell and we felt the culture was very special”

— 1Vision site producer for Coppell ISD Will Tyner

“We saw a great opportunity as a launching pad; the arena is and the facilities are number one in the area, they’re fantastic and so we couldn’t have asked for a better spot, better place and better people,” Tyner said.

Coppell sets itself apart from other neighboring school districts in that CISD is a one high school district and with that comes a city of support. With the foundations of 1Vision in place, a new football coach ready and eager to change the culture and an athletic director that prioritizes the kids and the families of those kids, the community has extra reason to feel fired up for the future. 

Internally, there has been a desire for increased interaction between the community and athletic department. These plans are already underway. 

“The opportunity for the community to be enlightened to all that’s happening from a social media perspective is a big deal,” Pehl said “We’ve significantly upgraded our footprint in the community and so, the ability for the community to know what’s happening, when it’s happening, the opportunity for the community to be involved with our programs and have face-to-face opportunities with our programs is huge.”

For the first time, there will be a freshman athletic summit this year with a priority of spreading information about sports, programs and those processes to those parents and future athletes.

“We want to enlighten them a little bit more to what it looks like to be an athlete and what a schedule looks like,” Pehl said. “Just enlightening the community to what high school athletics looks like is a big part of a positive community, their experiences and also their knowing what our vision is.”

And with the spread of new information about Pehl’s vision and the new coach is a desire for the community to get out and come help wherever is needed.

“With a new coach in place, there’s a ton of enthusiasm and so one of the main themes that we continue to hear is pretty typical for Coppell, which is how can I help,” Coppell football booster club president Jennifer Cusano said. “It’s gonna make for more community involvement.”

We have a lot of folks that want to be a part of the football program and that’s really exciting”

— Coppell football booster club president Jennifer Cusano

Specific plans to increase community involvement with the football program includes meet the coaches nights and program dinners where parents will be able to interact with the coaches face-to-face. 

“While part of the booster role is to create community enthusiasm, by getting volunteers and inviting the community to meet the players and to meet the coach, that all helps create a culture of community around football, whether you have a football player or not,” Cusano said.

Coming across activities and ideas to promote community involvement doesn’t always come easy and usually requires outside help. The first thing that the football booster club does is branch out and see what other one high school cities like Allen, Southlake Carroll and Highland Park are doing.

In recent years, there has been a slight drop off in community support, especially with away football games, and so there are talks between Wiley and Cusano on how to regain that involvement. The booster club’s main goal is to support Wiley and the athletes and each desire to regain community support and make Friday nights something that people choose to attend versus alternative activities.

There have been proposals for pregame activities, theme nights, welcoming alumni and getting elementary kids involved in Friday night activities. While the booster club is just getting started with Wiley, the goal for Cusano remains the same: get the community excited about football again.

The message from the booster club isn’t solely fixated upon football anymore, either. In recent years, the booster clubs of each individual sport operated independently but Cusano wants to change that to provide a more cohesive community backing for all the sports and the Coppell brand. 

Cusano’s plan is to schedule a full meeting with the heads of all the booster clubs, to share resources between the two and to overcome similar obstacles. The biggest challenge that remains is the Coppell brand as well as the Coppell athletics brand and how the booster clubs can unify. 

With only the track and field head coaching position needed to be filled, Pehl’s vision for CISD athletics is taking shape.

With Pehl’s vision, new coaching perspectives, experienced administrators, plans for booster club unity and a media company in place to promote the Coppell brand, the district is entering a new era of high school athletics. 

Follow Meer (@mahfuz_meer) and @SidekickSports on Twitter.

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