Willie Criss started coaching in 1961 for $280 a month and finished in 2007 with more than 100 wins and his name on the field house at Fort Worth Wyatt High School.
But the 78-year-old never saw this one coming: On Friday, his two sons and four of his grandsons will be coaching in the first round of the UIL playoffs.
“Every last one of them — when they went off to school, it was the furthest thing from their mind,” the elder Criss said. “They said, ‘I’m not going to coach.’ I said, ‘OK. I don’t mind that. Whatever you do, that’s you.’ ”
As it turned out, what they did was follow Willie.
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Anthony, 51, is the head coach at Arlington Sam Houston. Zachary, 49, is the head coach at Wyatt.
Dominique Criss, 27, Quinnin Criss, 24, and Meyer Criss, 23, coach under Zachary at Wyatt. Antwaun Criss, 32, is an assistant at Mansfield Lake Ridge. Antwaun and Meyer are Zachary’s sons. Dominique and Quinnin are Anthony’s.
“It was unexpected, but it’s exciting,” Zachary said. “We’re really getting a kick out of this.”
Willie still scouts for Wyatt and sometimes for Sam Houston, transferring his game notes to large sheets of butcher’s paper. He details everything, from positions to heights and weights to the number of reserves on the sideline.
“He’s the original,” Anthony said.
But 53 years ago, Willie was skeptical when he heard about a job opening in tiny Diboll, south of Lufkin. He was a graduate assistant at Texas Southern, where he graduated from in 1958.
He wasn’t planning a life around coaching. He just wanted a job.
“Back then [teaching] was one of the few things that a black person could get into,” he said.
After two years at Diboll, Willie got a job as an assistant at Como High in Fort Worth. When Como closed, he moved to Dunbar, where he coached Anthony and Zachary as a defensive coordinator. Willie got the head job at Wyatt in 1984 and retired the first time in 1997, as Anthony took over.
Coaching tree grows
After three seasons, Anthony moved to Arlington Bowie. Willie retook the Wyatt job in 2004 and won his 100th game, before retiring again in 2007 when Zachary replaced him.
By then, Antwaun was on staff at Wyatt, and Meyer was a rising defensive star for the Chaparrals. Dominique, who played at Baylor and graduated with a degree in business, was also contemplating a career in coaching, to Willie’s surprise.
“I told [Dominique], you know what, man, I thought you graduated from Baylor, I thought you had some sense,” Willie said. “Going to all these $80-, 90-, 100,000 job interviews and you come out talking about how you want to coach, man.”
Meyer, meanwhile, went to Texas in 2009, intent on majoring in engineering. Then, like his brother Antwaun and his cousins and his dad and uncle, he came home during a school break and started working out with players at Wyatt. The itch didn’t go away.
He graduated in 2013 and joined his dad’s staff this year as a defensive line coach.
But for a family full of men making their livelihood off of football, the game is not invasive.
“We really don’t talk about football at home,” Zachary said.
“It’s just something we’ve never done, even when we played under Daddy. He didn’t come home and talk to us about what we did at practice that day.”
The third generation of Criss coaches have the same approach.
“All through our life we were coached by family members so we knew whatever happened on the field, happened on the field,” Dominique said. “It had nothing to do with something at home.”
There’s still one of Willie’s grandsons who has held out of coaching. Zachary’s son, Zachary II, is working on his doctorate at Baylor.
“Deuce,” as Willie calls him, played quarterback for Wyatt.
“He keeps saying that he is not going to coach,” Zachary Criss said. “But every time he comes home, he’s with the quarterbacks or some other kids, so that’s how we started. I’m thinking it’s going to light him too.”