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Clintwood star Dotson finds football success at multiple schools

Kevin Mays • May 22, 2020 at 4:30 PM

WISE — Jim Dotson knew at an early age that he wanted to be a coach.

Dotson followed a career path that even he could not imagine when he was an all-district football and all-state basketball player at Clintwood.

The 1958 Clintwood graduate spent his high school days playing for two coaching legends, football coach Ralph Cummins and basketball coach Howard Deel.

“They were great coaches and more importantly they were great role models,” Dotson said. “I wanted to go into coaching and do what they did.”

Dotson played football collegiately at Carson-Newman, and then his coaching career took a winding path.

GETTING STARTED

“My first coaching job was at Oneida, Tenn.,” Dotson said. “I was an assistant football coach and head basketball coach for four years.”

Dotson’s basketball teams won four straight district championships.

After the stint at Oneida, Dotson said he considered getting out of coaching, but fate had different plans.

After getting his master’s degree from Tennessee Tech, he took a position as a guidance counselor at John Battle. When the school was looking for an eighth-grade football coach, it found Dotson.

Two years later, Dotson took the varsity football coaching position at Honaker.

“I’m not sure but I may have been the only applicant for the job,” he said.

Dotson said in the years prior to his taking the job at Honaker, the Tigers were 6-44-2.

He coached at Honaker for two years, with a combined record of 13-5-1.

Then he took the job that put him on Southwest Virginia’s high school football map.

“THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM”

The J.I. Burton football team finished 0-10 in the 1969 season.

Dotson was hired to take over the program the following year.

“In 1970, we finished 4-5-1. In 1971 we went 6-4, and then in 1972 we went 13-0,” Dotson recalled. “I’ve rebuilt some programs over the years.”

The state championship year was known as “The Impossible Dream” season for the Raiders.

The dream season started with a connection to Dotson’s roots, a collegiate powerhouse coach and a new offensive attack for the Raiders.

“Coach Cummins and I went to a coaching clinic in the summer, and Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks was supposed to be there. But he couldn’t make it,” Dotson said. “Instead, he sent an assistant coach by the name of Barry Switzer, and Coach Switzer spent the week going over the nuts and bolts of the wishbone offense.

“The wishbone suited our personnel better and that fall we switched to it.”

With Bub Godsey at quarterback, Charlie Graham at fullback and Connor Litton and Kenny Stidham at running backs, the wishbone was set behind a line that included Ben Spradlin, Rod Willis and Jackie Lawson Jr., among others.

“It was the best offense to suit our players and nobody else but Clintwood was running it,” Dotson said. “It was an option wishbone and worked well for us, and no one really had experience in defending it.”

Dotson also had a top-notch coaching staff that included Chig Mainous, who was part of the VHSL 1970 state championship staff at Gate City; Al Stecker, who would later lead J.J. Kelly to the state championship in 1981; and two young coaches, Gene Rowland and Al Johnson, who later went into school administration.

Other key members of the staff included Jack McElroy, Bruce Rose and Jackie Lawson Sr.

Despite have quality coaching and talented players, Dotson said the road to the state title was not always easy for the Raiders, who had to fight through the always tough Lonesome Pine District.

“We had some pretty good battles,” Dotson said.

Burton’s close calls in 1972 included a 15-12 win over arch-rival J.J. Kelly, a 7-0 blanking of Powell Valley and the most dramatic win of the season, a 20-14 victory over Cummins’ Clintwood team.

“There was something like 6 seconds left to play and Randy Stidham hauled in a pass for a long touchdown play that gave us the win,” Dotson said. “It was a good game and it helped us. We kept getting better as the season went along.”

Dotson’s Raiders defeated Lebanon and Chilhowie in the postseason and then faced a Madison County team coached by Eddie Dean.

Dean was in his sixth season in a career at Madison County that did not end until 32 years and three state championships later. The VHSL Hall of Fame coach won 308 games in his 38 years.

But that Saturday in 1972 at UVa’s Scott Stadium belonged to Burton.

“They were good. They were really good,” Dotson said of Madison County. “We went up on them 26-0 at halftime. And in the second half, I remember one of our players coming over to me and saying, ‘We don’t have anything left.’ We were able to hang on and beat them 26-14.”

MOVING ON

After the ’72 season, Dotson got out of coaching for a short period.

In 1975, he coached at J.J. Kelly for two seasons. The Indians finished 8-2 his first year and 7-3 the next one.

He was back at Burton for the next three years, where the Raiders went 18-11-1 from 1977-’79.

In 1980, Dotson got a coaching job he wanted to keep forever when he landed at Tennessee High.

He coached at the Big 9 Conference school for seven years, amassing a 49-26 record.

Dotson led the Vikings to conference co-championships in 1983 and ’84 and conference runner-up finishes in 1980 and ’81.

After the 1986 season saw Tennessee High finish 3-7, Dotson said he was informed by school administrators that they wanted the program to go another direction.

“So I was out of a job,” he said.

The coach was disappointed at losing the job he loved. But he said in retrospect it gave him a chance to pursue opportunities he would have never had if he would have stayed at Bristol.

He took a football position at George Wythe and then ended up back at Kelly.

“They were struggling at the time and I struggled right along with them,” Dotson recalled.

In 1992, however, the Indians rediscovered their winning ways.

Dotson directed Kelly to a 9-3 season, losing to Division 1 state champion Appalachia and twice to Powell Valley — once in the regular season and once in the Division 2 playoffs.

COLLEGE SCENE

Dotson stayed at Kelly for a while, but took his coaching talents to UVA Wise as an assistant coach for the Cavaliers from 1993-’96.

The Cavs coaching run included being a part of the staff that guided the school to a 10-1 regular-season and UVA Wise’s first playoff game in 1995 and a 1996 undefeated regular season.

Dotson was also an assistant coach at Carson-Newman in 1997 and in 1999 when the Eagles lost the NCAA DII national championship to Northwest Missouri State in four overtimes.

He had short head coaching stints in the college ranks at Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D., and at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

COACHING IN EUROPE

In addition to collegiate coaching, Dotson traveled to Germany and spent half a year coaching a semi-professional team in the German Bundesliga.

Dotson also spent time coaching in England and was an assistant coach for one season at Oxford.

“We had some smart kids,” Dotson said. “We had a Rhodes Scholar from Oklahoma and one from Louisiana. They were smart kids, but they didn’t have a lot of football knowledge. Most of their backgrounds were in rugby or soccer.”

Dotson also helped coach football in France and in the Ukraine, twice, as part of a Christian mission team.

OFF THE FIELD

In addition to coaching, Dotson and his wife, June, worked with Habitat for Humanity for 15 years.

Dotson served as executive director of the local operation in Wise County and helped build 12 houses.

“I had a lot of success on the field, but to give the owner of a house the keys to their new home, that’s really something,” Dotson said.

He and his wife have traveled to Poland six times, as well as to Romania, England, Uganda and the Fiji Islands as part of the Habitat for Humanity program.

At age 80, Dotson is still active in his community.

He was inducted into the J.I. Burton Hall of Fame in 2014 and continues to serve on its Executive Committee.

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