Anthony and Zachary Criss took their parents out for their 56th anniversary not too long ago and, like any good sons, picked up the tab.
That prompted their father, Willie Criss, whose name is on the field house at O.D. Wyatt High School to say, “You two together have made more money than I have in my lifetime.”
Willie, who started his coaching career in 1961, made $217 in his first month as a coach from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m. He reached as high as $55,000 after leaving his mark on the game and his student-athletes.
Nearly 60 years later and “the family business” is still going strong.
Anthony is making $123,721 this season as the head football coach at Arlington Sam Houston, which is 13th most in Dallas-Fort Worth and tied with Martin’s Bob Wager for most among coaches in Tarrant County. Zachary makes $88,685 as the head coach at Wyatt.
“Dad won’t admit it, but he told us not to go into coaching,” Anthony said. “But it’s the thing we do, it’s the family business. We go to school, get degrees, but end up coming back and it’s worked out for us.”
Willie, who turns 83 in January, continues to be Wyatt’s official scout.
Anthony just wrapped up his eighth season at Sam Houston and 32nd overall in the coaching game. He’s been in the Arlington school district since 2000 – first as the Bowie head coach and then AISD’s assistant athletic director.
“It’s been great to help mold kids to be better. That’s what has meant the most to me,” he said. “To see a glimmer of hope through athletics and a chance at a future – with some of them not even thinking about college before – now to help them and have an impact on their lives, it’s a great deal.”
That commitment speaks volumes to Arlington ISD assistant superintendent Michael Hill.
“He’s been tremendous for the Sam Houston and Arlington community,” Hill said. “I’ve known Coach Criss for 18 years and the amount of work he’s put in to better the kids just speaks volumes on what he’s been able to do. It’s across the district and he’s a household name.”
Anthony’s first salary was $24,000 in 1987 at Wyatt when he was an assistant coach for football and baseball.
“What people don’t understand is I didn’t just become the head coach. I started as a math teacher with six classes at Wyatt, and one year I had no off period,” Criss said. “It’s about what you’re doing for young people. The amount of money I’ve made has just grown over time. I just so happen to be the oldest and have been doing it the longest.
“How much more did [Highland Park’s] Randy Allen make for winning two state titles, how much did [Carthage’s] Scott Surratt make for winning six state titles in 10 years? They’ll say not one penny. Look at Riley Dodge. People assume he’s going to make $120,000 at Carroll. He’s not at six figures because he just started. You have to work your way up. [Former Carroll head coach] Hal Wasson was making more than me because he was doing it longer. When I leave, the next coach isn’t going to make $123,000. They’ll start at the bottom. It’s a going rate for us.”
Something else most people don’t know is coaching salaries are non-negotiable. It’s more about the wins and losses. It’s about the job these coaches do.
Remember, Willie made barely over $200 in his first month on the job in 1961. If paid by the hour, it was less than minimum wage.
“No one was getting paid back then, but dad always breaks down when people are appreciative of coaches,” Anthony said. “The money isn’t being dropped out of the sky. We’re just not a football coach, a lot of us are the athletic directors, and you’ll get the same interview with any coach in DFW, Austin, Houston or in San Antonio.”
Lake Travis’ Hank Carter ($158,512) and Westlake’s Todd Dodge ($150,000) are the top paid coaches in the state.
While Dodge makes almost $30,000 more than Criss, their story goes back to 1981 when the two graduated from the University of Texas.
“He was this big time recruit and I was a student, but we’ve continued to keep in touch,” Criss said. “It crazy to see our careers go. We got into coaching the same way and started around the same time.”
El Paso Bowie’s Robert Padilla is third at $144,044 while Katy’s Gary Joseph and Dickinson’s John Snelson are next in line with just over $138,000.
Duncanville’s Reginald Samples ($130,969) is the top paid coach in DFW.
“It’s what Anthony has done for the community, coaches and players. It’s more than the wins and losses,” Hill said. “The students will always thank him. One student posted a picture saying Coach Criss has made him into a better student, better player and better son. To get that from 16, 17-year-olds just proves the impact he’s had here.”
Criss was making $43,500 in 1997 as Wyatt’s head coach and athletic director. When he got to Bowie in 2000, he learned that the assistant coaches were making $44,000. His first salary in Arlington was $68,000.
“I’ve seen the progression, dad has seen it. I can remember when Sam Harrell was the $100,000 man then Art Briles and Randy Allen,” he said. “Five, 10 years from now someone is going to make $180,000 and someone will hit $200,000. That’s just the way it’s going.”
The Texans have just one playoff appearance with Criss when the team went 7-4 in 2014. They went 3-7 this season.
Again, though, it truly is about more than the game for him and his family.
“All the coaches in Arlington get along too and we’ll meet and talk about how we can better our community and how to better our programs, and try to help make it the best experience possible for our kids,” he said. “It’s been very fulfilling and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Sam Houston’s graduation rate has improved each of the last six years. The number of kids going to college has risen too. Anthony has a lot to do with that.
“He’s a leader on campus and has done a lot to change the culture here,” Sam Houston principal Fernando Benavides said. “He’s just not the football coach. He’s just not the AD, but he’s the biggest supporter for every athlete and every sport. He’s helping meet the academic expectation here and is a great positive leader. Our graduation rate has gone up the last six years and Coach Criss is a big part of the team effort here at Sam Houston.”
“He was a big impact on me,” said his son Dominique, who is an assistant at North Crowley. “Just seeing dad’s interaction with the kids and parents, I wanted that same approach and to follow his footsteps in coaching. He wants them to be successful not just in football, but in life.”
Anthony’s other son, Quinnin is an assistant at Wyatt along with Zachary’s son Meyer. Zachary’s other son, Antwaun, is an assistant at North Crowley.
They, too, were told not to go into coaching. But, of course, they take after their fathers.
“I came back and my uncle needed some help so I helped out for a week and loved it,” Dominique said. “I saw how great the kids were and how much of an impact the coach has on them. I said I could see myself doing this and making an impact here rather than a normal 9 to 5.”
Anthony has reached that point in his career where he’s coaching kids of his former high school kids.
“That’s how long I’ve been coaching,” he said. “I love seeing the kids and the coaches every day. I’m no longer ‘Coach Criss the football coach.’ I’m just ‘Coach Criss.’ I’ll have kids come see me, kids I don’t even coach, so it’s been amazing.”