Harbaugh. Ryan. Bowden. Football meets family tradition. Dad coaches, and sons follow suit. It happens at every level, from high school to collegiate and even on to professional football, coaching becomes a legacy. This Saturday brings with it the third annual Criss Bowl. Anthony Criss, “Coach AC”, head coach of Sam Houston and Zachary Criss, “Coach Zach”, head coach of OD Wyatt, go head-to-head for the third time.
While this season marks game three for the brothers competing, the history extends for more than three generations. Willie Criss, “Daddy Criss”, assumed leadership over the OD Wyatt squad in 1984. When AC graduated college, he had every intention of going into the business world, but at the time, it wasn’t a booming industry.
“I started substitute teaching and going to OD Wyatt with Dad,” said AC. “One day he gave me a hat, some pants, and before you know it, I was coaching.” Seven years later, Zach returned to the area from Houston where he had been working in advertising and marketing. He, too, began coaching at OD Wyatt.
“Daddy told us we couldn’t be coaches,” said Zach. “He told us to be a doctor or an engineer, but don’t be a coach. He wanted us to do better.”
As the chips may fall, AC became the offensive coordinator and Zach served as the offensive line coach. This was the case in 1996 when Zach’s son, Antwuan, was on the team. Little did he know, he would soon join them on the sideline as “Coach Twaun.”
In 1997, Daddy Criss retired, but this didn’t put an end to the Criss regime. Coach AC became head coach, and Coach Zach took over the offense. Another coach on staff quit, so Daddy Criss agreed to serve as a defensive coach under Coach AC’s leadership.
Fast forward to the turn of the century, Daddy Criss retires again, Coach AC transfers to Arlington ISD, and Coach Zach quits coaching. The Criss dynasty at OD Wyatt officially ends.
“During that time, we were going to the playoffs every year,” said Coach Zach. “Then, we left, and somehow the program went like 0-10, I think.”
In 2003, the foundation for the Criss Bowl was set. Daddy Criss returned to OD Wyatt and took Coach Zach with him. Two years later, Daddy Criss retired, yet again, leaving the program to Coach Zach.
With Coach AC in Arlington and Daddy Criss retired, what would happen to the Criss legacy at OD Wyatt? In 2004, Coach Zach’s oldest son, Coach Twuan, joined the staff and helped coach his two younger brothers. Shortly after, Coach AC’s sons Dominique and Quinnin were hired on in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Now, if having four Coach Crisses on staff isn’t enough, Coach Zach’s son, Coach Meyer also jumped on board in 2014.
Today, there are 4 Crisses among the OD Wyatt coaching staff and only one at Sam Houston.
“I’m the oddball out,” said Coach AC.
Although he’s the lone Criss in Arlington, the record is certainly tilted in his favor. Sam Houston dominates the Criss Bowl 2-0, a record that Coach Zach and his staff anticipate will become slightly more balanced after Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be a good battle this year,” said Coach Zach. “I’m really feeling it this year. His [Coach AC’s] kids are too. We’re ready to go get him.”
How sweet a victory it would be for Coach Zach, who explained that he’s never beat his older brother. In fact, growing up, they were always on the same team, so competition was sparse between them. “We shared a room at home and at college. We were always on the same team.”
Today, even when competing against each other, the family mentality endures. “It’s like a big family going out and playing football on Thanksgiving Day,” explained Coach AC.
When asked which team their parents would root for, both head coaches agree that they are really just eager for the game to be over.
“Mom sits on the OD Wyatt side for half the game and on the Sam Houston side for the other half,” added Coach Zach.
Even when asked which was the better athlete growing up, the brothers split the difference. “AC was better at football, but Zach was better at baseball,” they agreed. They don’t event disagree on who is the better coach. In fact, Coach Zach said that their coaching styles are too different to compare.
“I’m more of a grinding kind of guy, and Anthony is more of a nurturer,” he said. “I coach in army boots. He coaches in tennis shoes. That’s the difference in our personalities.”
Of course, there has to be something on the line. Coach AC was the one to share the friendly wager.
“Around Christmas, we have a big Playstation tournament,” he explained. “It’s a big ordeal. We have this belt, like a WWE belt. The winner of the Criss Bowl gets to keep the belt.”
The home of the belt will be determined 8 p.m. Saturday at Wilemon Field. Will Coach AC go for a three-peat or does Coach Zach and the rest of the Criss crew have what it takes to finally get past Sam Houston?