New KCHS football head coach ready for the challenge

Dean Cokinos has ‘the answers to the test’ as he prepares to lead the Irish in a tough region

By Dan McWilliams

New Knoxville Catholic High School football head coach Dean Cokinos is ready to take on the challenge of leading the Fighting Irish as they play in what many call the toughest region in the state in Division II, Class AAA.

Knoxville Catholic competes in the AAA-East Division with Baylor School of Chattanooga, Brentwood Academy, Lipscomb Academy of Nashville, McCallie School of Chattanooga, and Montgomery Bell Academy of Nashville. Lipscomb moves up to AAA after capturing the state title in II-AA last season, while Baylor is the defending II-AAA state champion.

After winning state titles in the non-financial-aid Division I in 2015 and 2017, KCHS moved to Division II in 2019 and in the last two years has found the going rough, compiling a combined record of 8-12.

Mr. Cokinos, named KCHS coach on Dec. 22, brings a broad range of football experience to the Fighting Irish, having been the head coach of arena football teams in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and Atlanta; working in NFL international football operations in Germany; coaching in the collegiate level at UMass, Austin Peay, and West Alabama; and in the last three seasons as special teams and linebackers coach at both Brentwood Academy and Ensworth in Nashville. His head coaching regular-season record is 165-86-1, with an 11-6 post-season record. His teams qualified for the playoffs 13 times, appeared in the semifinals seven times, and were five-time conference champions and twice league champions.

“Having served in multiple roles as a head coach, general manager, director of operations, director of player personnel, in corporate sponsorship and fundraising as well as in community and media relations, I have obtained a wealth of knowledge in the process of building programs and teams,” Mr. Cokinos said.

“I have now been on both ends of the spectrum in regard to high school football, developing players to move on to the next level and evaluating players for the next level, and I have performed all the duties, from A to Z, required to run a program both on and off the field. I have the answers to the test. The value that I will bring to the staff and team players is to simplify things and focus on things of value that will enhance the building process and avoid the noise or busy work that can hinder player development.”

Mr. Cokinos said “the goal is simple” at KCHS: “Identify each player’s skill set and build a toolbox for each player that evolves around strong fundamentals, explaining and demonstrating ‘why’ and what is being asked of them, which will in turn allow the players to play fast on game day, maximizing their ability. The most valuable lesson that I have learned in my coaching journey is the ability to communicate with the players as men. The players will always know where they stand and what is expected of them, they will have consistency from me—they will always get the same guy every day—and they will receive a detailed and efficient answer to their questions and will always know why we do things. My job is to develop a culture of winning, both on and off the field. Winning never rests—our focus will be on the things that will help our young men to become better football players every time they walk into the fieldhouse or step on the field.”

The competition in Division II-AAA East is ramped up even more this year with the addition of Lipscomb.

“One of the most attractive things about AAA high school football is that it is the highest/best level of competition of high school football in the state of Tennessee, where you will face the top players and coaches in the state,” Mr. Cokinos said. “For Catholic football, it will start with developing a strong set of fundamentals within our players. We will teach our players the game in the simplest terms and develop each player’s skill set and get our guys playing fast and physical. Alignment and assignment and team concept will be extremely vital to our success. We have a strong senior class, two Power 5 quarterbacks, and a solid stable of some good-looking athletes participating in the off-season workouts.

“As the players develop physically and mentally over the next months and begin to develop an identity, we expect to be a competitive group in 2023. To reach the top level in the state will be a process that includes adding and developing quality coaches and most importantly attracting new players to our program, and developing these players the moment they step on campus to ensure that we have no gaps in our roster development. This process will require a village of support from our staff, community, parents, and boosters. This year’s senior class will be the group that starts this legacy, and these guys are ready for the challenge ahead of them. We have a great group of young men that will lead us in the right direction.”

Mr. Cokinos came to Division II-AAA football in 2020 as the special-teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach for Brentwood Academy. He moved to Ensworth in 2021 and worked with the linebackers and served as a senior consultant to the defensive staff with game planning for the last two seasons. He coached the Mr. Football state kicker of the year and two first-team all-league linebackers at Brentwood Academy in 2020 and an all-region linebacker at Ensworth last fall.

Mr. Cokinos attended a Catholic high school, Archbishop Williams, in Boston. He earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary and secondary physical education from the University of Massachusetts and attended graduate school in physical education and health at Austin Peay. His experience includes coaching and GM work in the Arena Football League from 2007 to 2018 and work as a Tennessee Titans pro personnel scout from 2003 to 2007. He won AFL titles and coach-of-the-year honors in 2008 and 2013. From 1995 to 2001 he worked in the NFL Europe developmental league as a vice president of football operations and head coach in Munich and Berlin.

“We’re excited to welcome Coach Cokinos to Catholic High,” said KCHS president Dickie Sompayrac. “He has a solid understanding of the balance between winning and educating young men and developing lifetime skills. He is highly experienced in football operations and player development, and he builds programs that personify class and excellence. We look forward to Coach Cokinos leading the Fighting Irish on and off the field. Our student-athletes are fortunate to have him as their head coach.”

Mr. Cokinos and wife Trina have two daughters: Isidora, 13, and Alexandria, 11.

“I have been very fortunate and blessed with a great wife and two wonderful girls,” Mr. Cokinos said. “Trina has been the rock of our family. She really is the glue to our family structure—without her support and flexibility, this opportunity as well as many others in my coaching journey would not exist.”

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