MIKE LEE: Robert Lee coach took unusual journey to six-man football

Mike Lee
Special to the San Angelo Standard-Times
First-year Robert Lee head coach Adam Cline with his daughter Brynlee

Adam Cline reported to Hedley High School for his first day as a science teacher in August 2009. Before he could make it to his classroom, he also had become the head football coach of the six-man Owls from the Texas Panhandle.

“The principal and the superintendent met me at the door,” Cline said, “and one of them smiled real big and said, ‘How you doing, Coach?’

“I said, ‘Coach?’

“They said, ‘Come into the office and we’ll talk.’ ”

The administrators explained that the school’s maintenance guy, who doubled as the only football coach at the school, had just accepted another job. The basketball coach, the only other boys’ coach at Hedley, didn’t want the football job.

“They said it was up to me to coach the football team or they’d have to fold the program for at least a year,” Cline said. “So I said, ‘Sure … I guess.’

“I just didn’t think it was fair to those kids to fold the program. They’d already been practicing for a month.”

Coach Cline never had time to consider the unfair position he had been put in as a new employee and the only potential savior for the program. He had to prepare to coach Hedley’s 13 football players later that same day.

“What hit me was that I was the only guy out there,” Cline said. “It was all me. I had 13 players looking at me, waiting for me to say something motivating and tell them what to do in practice.”

The departing coach hung around that week and even coached the first game – a 45-point mercy rule loss by halftime to neighboring Lefors.

“He gave me his playbook and then he left,” Cline said. “Needless to say, I didn’t make many changes that first year.”

Cline wasn’t completely new to football or coaching, but he was new to Texas and six-man. He’d grown up in a Kansas sports hotbed at Liberal in the southwest corner of the state less than 50 miles from Perryton, Texas. As a cornerback for the Redskins, Cline had played on one state championship team, one state runner-up team and two state semifinalist football teams.

He also was a part of four state championship teams in track as a member of Liberal’s one- and two-mile relays.

Cline’s dad had been a coach, and Adam had helped coach some eight-man football in Kansas before relocating to Texas.

“Eight-man football is basically 11-man football without two offensive linemen and one receiver or back. Eight-man rules are the same as 11-man,” Cline said. “But the concept of six-man football was not on my radar at all. I had trouble adjusting to the whole idea of putting a player 15 yards behind the center and how to cover the entire field on defense with just six players.”

Cline adjusted, though, and coached six-man football at Hedley for three seasons. After finishing 2-7 in his first year, Cline guided Hedley to records of 7-4 and 4-7 and the first playoff berths in school history.

By that time, the former Environmental Science major who once dreamed of being a fisheries biologist was converted into a science teacher and Texas six-man football coach.

“I enjoy watching kids get better,” Cline said of teaching and coaching. “I like seeing kids learn how to work hard, do things the right way and see what it’s all about. I don’t think they get enough of that.”

Even so, Cline knew that if he was going to continue as a six-man coach, he had to learn more about the game. So he took an assistant’s job at Rankin and began learning under head coaches Shannon Williams and Kevin Ray, along with defensive coordinator Pat Potts.

“Besides football, they showed me what it took to lead kids,” Cline said. “Coach Potts showed me a lot about defending spread offenses and who to key on in certain situations.

“Six-man coaches are a tight-knit group – like a fraternity. There are plenty of guys that will help you. You just have to ask them.”

Cline took his newfound knowledge to coaching stops at Brookesmith, Anton and Whiteface. He’s currently in his first season as head coach at Robert Lee.

Now in his 12th season as a Texas six-man coach, Cline is a full-fledged member of the fraternity.

“It’s like anything else,” he said. “You always have to be learning and trying to get better.”

After the fisheries biologist career didn’t pan out, Cline became a science teacher for three years in rural Kansas. He met and married his wife, Jamie, and her college education took the couple to Canyon and West Texas A&M to pursue a master’s degree in School Psychology.

Cline spent a year obtaining a Texas teaching certificate for science. While his wife was still at WT, Cline was hired at Hedley and began making the 160-mile daily commute to work. That’s when his professional career and personal life took a dramatic turn when the school principal and superintendent met him at the door that first day.

“I jumped in to coaching six-man football and never looked back,” he said. “My wife understands the lifestyle of a coach.

“I have no regrets. I’m a big believer in God’s plan for people. I believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Mike Lee writes a weekly high school football column for the USA Today Network's Texas newspapers. Contact him at michaellee7@att.net.