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Hail to the chief: WHS names Tolleson as new head coach

Denton Ryan defensive coordinator helped team win state title in 2020

Travis M. Smith
Daily Light contributor
Waxahachie AD Greg Reed presented new head football coach Shane Tolleson with a custom football following Monday’s hire.

Waxahachie has its new head football coach — and he comes with a state championship pedigree.

The Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees made the hire of Shane Tolleson official with a unanimous vote Monday afternoon following a recommendation by Waxahachie ISD superintendent Bonny Cain.

Tolleson, most recently the defensive coordinator for 5A state champion Denton Ryan, will be the second head coach to take the field with the Indians at Class 6A. This is also the first head coaching gig for the Corsicana native.

According to Waxahachie ISD athletic director Greg Reed, the district received over 80 completed applications and another 30-plus exploratory phone calls for the position voluntarily vacated by Todd Alexander on Jan. 7. 

Reed noted an initial committee culled through the resumes and applications to help narrow the field. There were then three rounds of interviews, which concluded this past Wednesday with Tolleson, 40, rising to the top. 

Tolleson said that his desire to join the Waxahachie staff grew with each committee interview. He pointed to the community feel, tradition and pride as to three key factors that drew his family of four to the Gingerbread Capital.

"When looking for a head coach, we sought people who not only have the ability to win games but to make an impact on the lives of our students," Reed explained. "We believe Coach Tolleson has the ability to take our football program to the next level." 

With Tolleson game planning and calling plays, the Raiders' defense allowed just 15.8 points per game and recorded 83 tackles-for-loss, 15 sacks, seven fumble recoveries and two interceptions in 2020. 

Ryan defeated Dallas Adams (69-6), College Station (52-21), Longview (27-9), Highland Park (17-7), Mansfield Summit (49-35) and Cedar Park (59-14) en route to the Raiders 5A Division I state championship. The state title was the third in program history and first since the Raiders went back-to-back in 2001-02. 

In a recent article, the Denton Chronicle noted that the Tolleson's defense has a knack for finding the endzone, too. Ryan accounted for 16 defensive scores in 2018, 13 in 2019 and 10 in 2020.

Tolleson spent his first two seasons with the Ryan Raiders as the linebackers coach. He then moved into the defensive coordinator position in 2014 after David Thomas called it a career. Thomas had held the keys to the Raiders' defense for 14 seasons and spent 32 total as a defensive coordinator. 

The promotion resulted in Tolleson's first — and only — stint as a coordinator. His defense led the Raiders to the state quarterfinals in 2015, state semi-finals in 2016, '17, '18, state finals in 2019 and a state championship this past season.

The Ryan Raiders compiled a 90-10 overall record during Tolleson's seven seasons as the defensive coordinator.

According to longtime Texas high school football reporter David Smoak, Tolleson was one-of-three finalists for the then-vacant athletic director/head football coach position at Nacogdoches High in 2019. Darren Allman, formerly the head coach at Odessa Permian, was ultimately selected over Tolleson and Zac Quinlan. 

Waxahachie ISD superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain and board president Dusty Autrey both expressed their excitement to add Tolleson, his wife, Katie, and their two children, Kade (14) and Keylee (9), to the district.

"Waxahachie ISD is excited to see what the Indians football program will achieve under Coach Tolleson's leadership," stated Cain in a district-issued press release. "Coach Tolleson and his family will be a great addition to our district." 

Autrey added that "coach Tolleson's coaching style and ability to mentor students will be a huge asset to our district. We are excited to have him here and look forward to seeing how he will lead our football program." 

Tolleson had previous stops as an assistant coach at the collegiate level at Arkansas State (4 seasons) and Southern Arkansas (5) and Haltom High School (1). The tie to Arkansas State came after Tolleson spent his junior and senior seasons (2001-02) as a fullback and linebacker for the Red Wolves. He had transferred to Southern Arkansas from Navarro College (1999-2000), where he still ranks sixth all-time in single-season tackles (132). 

Tolleson was also selected to the 1998 Texas Sports Writers Association Class 4A all-state first-team as a linebacker following his senior year at Corsicana High School. He set the career tackle record while with the Tigers, as well. At the time, Tolleson and the Tigers lined up under defensive coordinator Jeff Berry — who recently spent one season on the Waxahachie football coaching staff before taking an assistant coaching position in Ennis. Berry is widely considered one of the brightest defensive minds in high school football. 

In a 2005 letter to the editor that appeared in the Corsicana Daily Sun, reader Jim Basham endorsed Tolleson as a future coach ahead of Arkansas State's New Orleans Bowl appearance. The Red Wolves were set to play Southern Miss while Tolleson was a third-year graduate assistant.

"Shane Tolleson is an outstanding young man with a great attitude and has a tremendous love for the game of football," Basham wrote. "Should Shane choose the coaching profession as a lifetime vocation, he will definitely be a good one."

Basham is actually the father of a former teammate and best friend of Tolleson. Having not read the letter previously, Tolleson was quickly humbled by its message. He was then quick to note that he is a true product of high school football — and proud of it.

"There have been multiple Jim Basham type of people who have poured into me," Tolleson said. "If it wasn't for coaches and teachers who poured into me, I wouldn't be sitting here today without athletics and God's grace.

"[...] I am honored to know that he thought that of me. But I am standing on the shoulders of great, great men that have allowed me to get to this spot today."