MIDDLEVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — In just his second year as a head coach, Jeff Dock has turned around the culture and on-field success of a program that had been struggling for more than a decade.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The amount of work these kids have put in, the amount of work the coaches have put in, the way they’ve meshed together, and to see the success out of it is even better.”
After winning just two games over the previous two seasons combined, Thornapple-Kellogg has won five of six this year, leaving the Trojans just one win away from clinching their first playoff berth in eight seasons, and just their second in the last 13 years.
“Our product on the field is getting better every single day,” Dock said. “It’s been awesome.”
He’s done so with the help of a staff that includes a Hall of Famer and the man who has been teaching him about football since he was a little boy: his father, Denny.
“Well it’s, fantastic,” Denny Dock said. “I absolutely love it. I get to do what I love to do with Jeff and that was kind of what I was waiting on. If he was going to be a head coach, hopefully I could come out and help him. So, he called me and said, ‘hey Dad, how about coming out and helping?’ So here we are.”
“Senior,” as he’s known to the team, posted an incredible 263-77 record in 33 years as a varsity head coach, the last 26 at Stevensville-Lakeshore High School.
Altogether, Denny Dock won 15 conference championships, five regional champions and made four state semifinals appearances. The first was with son Jeff Dock at quarterback in 1999.
“There’s two dreams kinds of,” Jeff Dock said. “It was a dream to play for him. It was an honor to play for him and then now to be able to coach with him, it really doesn’t get any better than that.”
Jeff Dock would go on to play quarterback at Grand Valley State University, where he was a part of three national championship teams. It was there he learned from several other great coaches, including former GVSU and now longtime Notre Dame head coach, Brian Kelly.
“Being able to play for him and coach (Chuck) Martin, not to mention coach (Todd) Kolster, he’s pretty successful too,” Jeff Dock said. “So, a lot of guys have led in the right way, and (it’s nice) being able to take advantage of those as well.”
After college, Jeff Dock began his career as a biology teacher while his father retired from coaching in 2013. He was named to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017 and had set his sights on spending his retirement out west.
Unless his one dream job actually ever became available.
“Oh, no question. If Jeff got a head (coaching job), that was my dream job, (to) help him,” Denny Dock said. “That was the only job I was taking, without a doubt.
“It was going to be help Jeff or go to Wyoming or Colorado. He’s cutting into my vacation, I’ll say that.”
So now, father and son are working together again, albeit for the first time, with Jeff Dock leading the way.
“Well, (Denny Dock has) gotten better at (being an assistant coach),” his son said laughing. “Last year was a new experience. He said being in the press box is a little different, but he’s awesome.
“Whenever you can take 40 years of experience and be able to learn from that it’s fantastic.”
Now Dad is trying to help navigate through what he calls the “coaching mine field” all new head coaches must go through.
“That was probably my No. 1 overlooking dad (thing) so-to-speak,” Denny Dock said. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and if I can keep him out of a few of those, that’s what I’d really like to help him with.”
However, some lessons have to be learned through the experience of making mistakes.
“Oh, that knucklehead.” Denny Dock laughed, “He’s made a couple, trust me.”
Most importantly, they’re making them together, focusing on much more than just building a good football program.
“He’s just done a great job,” Denny Dock said. “Jeff teaches a lot of life lessons, it’s not just X’s and O’s. He’s got a strong sense of being a good person and he wants our players to be good people, as well as, probably more so that good football players and he really stresses that.”
Like father, like son. A big reason why Dad is a hall of famer.