Whitson introduced as Denison head football coach, AD

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat
Denison's superintendent Dr. Henry Scott (right) introduces new head football coach and athletic director Brent Whitson. Whitson spend the past 10 years at South Grand Prairie.

During each of the four places Brent Whitson has been a head coach, there has been a bullet point to mark an achievement.

A state championship at Shawnee (Okla.).

Two deep playoff runs at Broken Arrow (Okla.).

The best two seasons at Richardson in the past 25 years and ending a 17-year playoff drought.

The longest playoff streak in South Grand Prairie history, which the Warriors will look to extend without him this coming season.

“I think I’ve been known as a takeover artist or whatever you’d want to call it,” Whitson said. “You want to make improvements every place you go.”

Whitson, who is 127-106 with 15 playoff appearances in 21 seasons, was introduced as the next Denison head football coach and athletic director and the Yellow Jackets are hoping he will have the same sort of success in the coming years.

His first official day on the job is March 15 but he will be getting things in place before then. Whitson comes from a coaching family. His father Lewis was the head coach at Denton for three years in the late 60s. His son Carter, who was the quarterback for the 2003 title team at Shawnee, is now the head coach at Putnam City (Okla.).

Whitson’s arrival after a decade at South Grand Prairie is a little telling. It is more than double the length of time at his previous three stops. He has made the playoffs the last seven years and saw no rush to leave.

“The real great thing about this is I’m not running from something, I’m running to something,” Whitson said. “I’ve got a great job. It was a place I thought I could spend the rest of my career.”

At Denison he inherits a program coming off a 7-4 record and third-place finish in District 7-5A (II) but the Jackets haven't won a playoff game since reaching the state semifinals in 2009 and the 11 years is the program’s longest stretch without a postseason victory since 1962-83.

“I haven’t seen a second-and-a-half of video of these guys because that wasn’t going to be the reason I took the job or didn’t take the job,” Whitson said. “Denison kids play hard and Denison kids play physical. That’s what I know know of the community. I’m excited to be a part of this.”

He had three playoff wins with the Warriors and his losses were to some of the biggest name programs in the biggest classification. South Grand Prairie lost to Euless Trinity in overtime in 2014, to Denton Ryan when it was state quarterfinalists in 2015, to eventual state champ Allen in 2017 and to Duncanville in 2018 and 2019 when it finished as the state runner-up both times.

All but one of those was by two scores or less, but Whitson doesn’t put silver linings on those finishes.

"Losing’s still losing,” Whitson said. “No matter how it happens.”

His crowning achievement is the state championship he won in his fourth and final season at Shawnee. Whitson also reached the state quarterfinals twice and the semis once at Broken Arrow. His teams at Richardson didn’t go far in the playoffs, but his final two years (2009 and 2010) are the only winning seasons for that program from 1995 heading into the 2021 campaign.

And at South Grand Prairie, he emerged from tough districts and got to the second round, including this past fall where he handed Lake Highlands its only loss before losing by four to perennial power Allen to finish 7-3.

“The really good teams we’ve had, the commonality was groups of kids that really loved each other and held accountability to each other,” Whitson said. “That’s the key element.”

For the first time, Whitson will also have full athletic duties on his plate — he was campus athletic coordinator at Richardson and South Grand Prairie — and there was an attraction to returning to one-school ISD.

“The draw of athletic director is nice. I report to Dr. Scott and I know if I have a question that’s where I go,” Whitson said.

Scott was pleased with how the search played out, starting with 94 applications that were trimmed to around 20, then Whitson was the choice among three finalists after eight interviews were conducted.

“We had a really good group to pick from. We’ve got some heavy hitters,” he said. “We got a pretty good feel for them. I was really, really impressed by the quality of the people. I feel really good with the process.”

Process is what Whitson looks for in putting together a program. His background is mainly offense — he was the starting quarterback on Ada’s state runner-up team in 1979 and then played at East Central — but he was the defensive coordinator at Weatherford that included an 11-2 record and state quarterfinal appearance in 1999 before becoming a head coach for the first time.

“I learned a long time ago it’s about having more points than the other team but it’s not just about scoring points,” Whitson said. “Defense can be a day in, day out proposition. We really work hard on defense and special teams. If we score 45 points and that’s what we need to do to win or score 13 points and win, we’ll do that too.”