Longtime Wylie football coach Hugh Sandifer announced his retirement Friday, ending a 41-year tenure at the only school at which he’s ever coached.
Starting his career as an assistant out of Abilene Christian University and holding roles across multiple sports in his early years, Sandifer took over the Wylie football program in 1986 and, over the next decade, built the Bulldogs into a regional power.
He leaves high school football with a 285-127-4 overall record, including 27 playoff berths, four state championship game appearances and a title in 2004. But his on-field performance only tells part of the story, said Wylie Superintendent Joey Light, who had known before Friday that this announcement was coming.
“Everybody loves Coach Sandifer, and we knew this day would eventually have to come but never wanted it to come,” Light said. “Everybody talks about the football and all the sports programs, but he’s meant so much more to the district than that because he really has a genuine love of our kids and was enthusiastically embracing everybody.
“He was a big supporter of our band, the choir and the (agriculture). He was just fantastic for everybody in our community, and hopefully even in retirement, he will continue to play a role there.”
Sandifer, who broke the news to his players and coaches before an official announcement was made, is retiring with his wife, Brenda, also a Wylie Independent School District employee. Both will finish out the school year in their respective roles.
“I told the kids and the coaches before anybody else and before we made it public,” the coach said. “I just felt like they needed to know first. It was emotional, but with the kids, I told them we want to announce it now so that it’s a smooth transition for the kids and coaches.
“I feel like we’re trying to do it the right way and making it about them. I’m sure they’re wondering what’s going on, and that’s the biggest part of teaching and coaching that my wife and I both will miss, is the kids and our co-workers. So that will be tough, but it something we’re looking forward to, to try something else.”
So what went into that decision — one that’s been speculated about locally for years? It was simply time, Sandifer said.
“It’s just been a long career. My wife and I have both said we’d always know when it was time, and we just felt like it was time,” he said. “In 41 years at the same school, we’ve been very blessed and felt like it was time to do something else, maybe start another chapter in our lives.”
What all that chapter will entail is not yet known. But Sandifer said the Wylie community will certainly remain a part of it.
“You don’t do something as long as we’ve done it and just walk away and not be part of it,” Sandifer said. “We’re Wylie Bulldogs and we want them to be very successful. So we’ll be around, for sure, supporting them in anything and everything we do.”
In stepping down as Wylie’s head football coach and athletic director, Sandifer vacates a pair of positions in which he’s excelled for the past 34 years.
In addition to his work on the football field, where he’s the 17th winningest coach in Texas high school football history, he also was responsible for building Wylie into one of the best all-around athletic programs in the state. Highlighting the program-wide success the Bulldogs have enjoyed over the past 3½ decades are Lone Star Cup championships in 2000-01 and 2005-06.
Light, who has shared a unique relationship with Sandifer in his 19½ years in administration — the last 12 as superintendent, said Sandifer’s shoes will be difficult to fill. And his job performance is only part of that.
“He was always great to work with,” Light said. “He understands that there’s a big picture and sometimes that’s hard for coaches to understand. They get tunnel vision. But he was always looking at things.
“One of his statements is he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. So for me, it was special because I knew anytime Coach Sandifer was coming to talk to me or we had any situation come up, we were on the same team. And even when things might be difficult, he was always wanting to do things correctly.
“His integrity is above reproach.”
With Sandifer departing, Light and the Wylie school board must now start the process of replacing him — and filling a position that’s been among the state’s most stable in the modern era. Outside of an interview at Mont Belvieu Barbers Hill’s request in 2010, an overture Sandifer ultimately declined, the longtime coach never so much as expressed interest in an outside job during his time as the Bulldogs mentor.
And with 14 of Wylie’s 16 10-win seasons all-time coming during Sandifer’s tenure, including a 24-year playoff streak from 1994 to 2017 and state championship game trips in 2000, 2004, 2009 and 2016, the Bulldogs were successful most of those years.
The challenge now will be finding a replacement who can match that success.
“We’ll get with the board and talk to them and see what are some of the things that they’ll be wanting us to be look at as far as criteria,” Light said. “Of course, we want to do the best thing for the kids, so we’d like to find another Coach Sandifer.”
With several longtime assistants on the Wylie staff, including defensive coordinator Clay Martin and Gregg Ruffin, who are both head coaches of other Wylie programs currently, the Bulldogs football opening could garner some internal interest.
In fact, both Light and Sandifer are hoping that’s the case.
“I think we’ve got some really capable people, so I hope so,” Light said. “And that will be part of that discussion.”
Added Sandifer: “I just think it’s always good when you have people who have invested time and know what’s expected and have been part of it. So I think there are some great people in place to continue what we’ve done that understand it. That’s not my decision, but I hope that will be something that they look at strongly.”
While the Bulldogs’ future is uncertain, Sandifer’s legacy as one of the most successful and influential coaches in Texas high school football history is cemented.
But the Wylie icon said he cares less about how he’s remembered than the memories and relationships he’s made.
“I’ll just remember how much fun it was,” he said. “It was a lot of fun with a lot of great kids and a lot of great coaches. That’s what I’ll remember — the families that we’ve met at Wylie for 41 years and lifetime friends.
“I hope that everyone remembers that we were hard workers who had fun and tried to be fair to everybody, but we’re not worried about what people think about us as much as the memories that we made while we were here.”