Photo courtesy of John Fish.

John Fish isn’t new to North Texas, but he is new to Dallas ISD.

His coaching career started at Del City High School in Oklahoma. After getting married, he and his wife moved to Texas, and Fish started working as coach at Lone Star High School in Frisco ISD. Then after a stint at Bonham High School as assistant athletic director and head football coach, he moved back to coach at Lone Star.

Fish, who grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma, was hired to replace Tony Benedetto and started as the athletic coordinator and head football coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in March.

Since then, he’s been busy preparing, including by hiring many new coaches.

Now gearing up for the school year and fall sports, Fish sat down with the Advocate to introduce himself to the neighborhood.

Did you play football growing up? 

I did. You know, a small school, I played everything. It was year-round, either playing football, basketball, baseball, track, just non-stop. So because of that a little bit, I’m very supportive of the multi-sport athlete and kids playing every sport they can. When it comes to specialization in kids, I think that ultimately hurts kids, especially kids that are trying to have a great high school experience. And even in kids that are gonna go on to college, I think it’s very important for them to have the ability and the opportunity to grow in a number of different ways by playing multiple sports.

What made you want to get into coaching? 

I knew at a young age that I always wanted to be associated with sports somehow in my life. I didn’t know how. But I believe in people and in relationships. And so, for me, I knew I love sports, I love football, and I love people, and I love impacting people. And I knew for me, even growing up, at a young age, I saw the impact that coaches had on me and on other people. But I think even more so than that, I realized whatever profession I chose, I wanted to have an impact. And I wanted to have a life that had purpose. And coaching is a purpose-driven life. And it just really is the vehicle for me to be able to impact kids’ life in a lifelong manner. And so that’s why I chose coaching. That’s why I do this. It’s about building relationships and hopefully having an impact on young people that’s going to be a lifelong thing.

How has your time at Woodrow been so far?

it’s been great. It’s been fantastic as far as hitting the ground running. The kids are incredible here. We have an awesome, diverse group of kids that all come together. It sounds cliche, but they’re just great kids. They buy into everything you’re asking them to do. They’re coachable. It’s been a little bit crazy as far as the transition piece where you get your feet on the ground, and you start wanting to coach kids and get your programs going. And then you also realize there’s a business side of it, too, where there’s coaches in and out, coaches staying, coaches leaving. There’s been an administrative change here at Woodrow Wilson. It’s all really great stuff. But it’s all change. I think change — sometimes that can be difficult for a lot of people because it’s a new philosophy, it’s a new culture, it’s new people. But it’s exciting because with all that change comes people that are going to buy into the culture that you’re building here. And so as a leader, it’s kind of exciting to have all these new people in and new kids and new programs, because it’s an opportunity for Woodrow Wilson High School to take a massive step forward on building on the traditions that have been established here already.

What are your goals for Woodrow athletics? 

We always talk about purpose versus goals. Our purpose here won’t ever change. It’s to impact kids, love kids, grow relationships with our kids and make sure that we’re equipping them when they leave here to go out and impact the world. As far as goals, our goals here are obviously to provide our kids and to serve our kids in a capacity that’s going to allow them to go out and be highly successful on and off the field. As far as some tangible goals that we have, we want to have 100% academic passing rate throughout our athletic program. That’s kind of a goal that we have, making sure that we’re establishing ourselves not just in the victories on the field but in the classroom. That’s a huge deal here. We have really good kids. We’re going to be successful. We’re going to win some games. We’re going to make deep playoff runs. But we want to make sure that we’re equipping our kids elsewhere as well. When you talk about wins and losses and things of that nature, I think we’re really going to be measured in each program by our playoff run. So one of the big goals that we have, we want to win state championships, and we’re not afraid to talk about that. But we want to make sure that we’re also making deep playoff runs. Round three, round four is where we expect to be year in, year out, and knocking on the door to go play for a state championship.

Woodrow Wilson High School. Photo by Renee Umsted.

How do you plan to accomplish those goals? 

Consistency is huge. As you have a new staff coming in, the plans that we’re putting in place create a level of consistency and high expectation. When you have those two things, day in and day out, it allows you to ultimately reach the goals that you have. We plan for the end in mind. So we start with state championship games in all of our sports. We plan accordingly. We have a backwards plan from there, all the way to the first day of practices leading into where we ultimately want to be. We use the term “code red” here. Code red is basically a mentality that we have that we’re going to be not only intentional with every single thing that we do, but we’re going to be efficient. And we’re going to do it at an extremely high rate of speed. Our kids play at every sport with a high level of urgency. Urgency and intent, ultimately, lead to you dominating and overtaking people on and off the court.

How does it feel to have so much alumni and community support? 

I’ll tell you one thing that you’re gonna see specifically in the football program is we’re really leaning into being Heisman High. … When you look at East Dallas and you look at the rest of Dallas on a spectrum, we’re very unique — from our community, to our kids, to our facilities, to the traditions that we have here in our alumni base. We are set up for success that a lot of schools in our area don’t have. We’re very unique in that. So I think for us, it’s extremely important that we pay homage to that, that we acknowledge that we are in a position where our school has things that no other schools have. So we’re going to build on that. We’re going to make sure that we utilize that to the full capacities that we have, that ultimately are going to benefit our kids for taking it into what that next chapter is, which is building on that. It fires me up to have that because I’ll be honest with you, whether it’s a Dallas school or a suburb school, most schools don’t have what we have — from our community, to our alumni, to the things here that we get to have day in and day out, we’re very blessed.

Do you foresee any challenges this year? 

For sure. One of the biggest things I love about this job is every single day I’ll walk in, and I’m going to turn the knob to my office door and step in, not knowing what the day’s gonna bring. When you’re dealing in the business of teenagers, every day brings surprises. If I sat here and tried to predict every challenge that we’re gonna face, I’d be lying to you because I don’t know. Each season is its own story. Whether it’s dealing with injuries, dealing with loss, that’s not even talking about the adult issues with coaches and things and families. This is a very people-centered business. And as people, we all kind of have brokenness in us and things that we’re challenged by every single day, personally and professionally. Getting to be in a position of leadership, although it can be challenging at times, I look at it as an opportunity to provide solutions.

What else would you like to share with the community?

I think it’s important that the community understands what our identity is. And our identity is going to be built every single day on building relationships with our kids, our coaches and our community. We want to impact our area, our Woodrow people, in a way that isn’t just coming out on a Friday night and watching the game and having a great time. We want it to have an impact that’s going to last long after we’re all gone. I know John Fish wants to be here for the rest of his career. But Woodrow Wilson High School will be here long after I’m gone. I want the community to know that our goal here is not just to come here and win a bunch of games. We’re gonna do that. But our goal here is to make sure that the community knows that we’ve impacted it in such a positive way that people will be able to look back on history and say, the era of John Fish or the 2022-23 Woodrow Wilson Wildcats, you can look back and see it. You can feel it, and it had an impact. However long we get to be here, we want to make sure that people are able to look back and say that was a great era. That’s an era that we’re still building on today.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.