Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, who has been coaching a high school football team in Tennessee for the past four years, has been hired as the new coach at University of Alabama at Birmingham, the school announced Wednesday.
Dilfer, who helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2000, has been the head coach at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, since 2019. He has guided the school to three state championship games in four seasons.
That includes one scheduled for Thursday morning against Christ Presbyterian Academy, meaning Dilfer would have to hustle back to Chattanooga after his introductory news conference. He takes his first college job with lofty ambitions for a program set to leave Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference starting next season.
Even he wasn’t quite sure of the move initially, before deciding to embrace the new challenge.
“I wouldn’t use the word scared. I was skeptical because I am a high school football coach, and I’m not ashamed of that,” Dilfer said. “But as I started going down this process, my visionary instincts started taking over and my excitement and enthusiasm started overwhelming me.
“I was like, Oh my gosh, there’s something big out there to do. I like big climbs.”
A first-round draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994, Dilfer played 14 NFL seasons. After retiring in 2008, he went into broadcasting, working for ESPN as an NFL analyst until 2017. That meant 218 rounds of golf and a fun but unfulfilling 2018 before going into coaching a world away from the NFL glamour and taking a job that “made zero sense.”
He said the team had 38 players when he got there, with six of them using a PVC pipe to work out upon his initial venture into the weight room. Dilfer sums up his mentality with the signs that he’ll set behind his desk: “At the edge of uncomfortable is where you find greatness” and “Do hard things.”
He’s openly wanting UAB to think in terms of the seeming longshot of the College Football Playoff, promising that “great things are coming.” First things first: Learning the college basics like NIL, the transfer portal and even recruiting.
“We will learn to recruit at an elite level,” Dilfer said. “I’d be lying to tell you I knew how to recruit at an elite level. That would be crap. That would be a lie. Never done it. But we’re about to get really good at it.”
At the same time, Dilfer became involved in the Elite 11 quarterback camp for the top high schools prospects in the country.
He moved into high school coaching at Lipscomb Academy, a private Christian school in the suburbs of Nashville. The team is 12-0 this season and 25-1 the past two years. Dilfer has led Lipscomb to a 43-10 record overall.
UAB athletic director Mark Ingram knows Dilfer is an outside the box hire. A local businessman suggested Dilfer to Ingram, and that set the stage for what turned into a 90-minute phone call.
“I’ve got to admit that initially ... I thought, I am not hiring a high school football coach,” Ingram said. “I’m just not going to do that. And frankly, I was right. I’m not hiring a high school football coach.
“I’m hiring the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft, a guy who spent 14 years playing quarterback at the highest level. I’m hiring a guy who was a Pro Bowler who was the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl championship team.”
Early in the 2021 season, Dilfer issued a public apology after a video on social media showed him pushing and shouting at one of his players. The player was the son of a former NFL teammate of Dilfer’s, kicker Phil Dawson.
Dilfer will replace Bill Clark, who stepped down in August, citing back problems.
Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was named interim coach and led the Blazers to a 6-6 record this season. UAB is set to play Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 16 in the Bahamas Bowl.
No terms were announced pending formal approval of Dilfer’s contract from the Board of Trustees.