The Coach – Jim Oddo, Charlotte Catholic
At home games, the Charlotte Catholic Cougars run onto Jim Oddo field. Not far behind them runs Coach Oddo, his red or brown ball cap tugged low, his mind churning about the next play.
Charlotte Catholic, in its thirty-seventh season with Oddo as head coach, has a college atmosphere at sold-out home games. The stands are a sea of red-clad, screaming students, proud parents, grandparents, and alumni. Fans tailgate hours beforehand. Some of the players are third-generation Cougars, meaning their granddads played for Oddo.
Oddo, seventy-four, is the dean of high school coaches in Mecklenburg County. He’s won more than 300 games and is the winningest coach in county history. And he’s just as passionate about the game as the sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds surrounding him. At practice, he’ll drop into a lineman’s stance to illustrate a point to a player. There’s no cheering crowd there, no bright lights, no shiny green turf.
“Football is my thing,” Oddo says. “I was halfway decent at it in high school and college, and I knew I wanted to coach. It’s my niche.”
Oddo has won five state championships at Catholic. His program grew along with his coaching acumen. In the early years, before moving to Keffer Stadium, Oddo says the Cougars played on “a lopsided field that didn’t seat 1,000, and we couldn’t get grass to grow on it.”
Today, Oddo’s team plays in a 3,500-seat stadium that is routinely full and boisterous. “It’s a family,” Oddo says. “And they’re energetic fans; they stand the whole game. They’re smart and they know the game.”
Oddo was an all-ACC center at North Carolina State. His philosophy is simple—surround yourself with good assistants, demand that your players work hard, and do things the right way. “He is humble and hard working, and just passionate,” says Kevin Christmas, Charlotte Catholic’s athletics director, who has worked sixteen years alongside Oddo. “He will do anything for anybody.”
Christmas said he doesn’t think Oddo has changed from the first day. “He is a legend, just a great high school story,” Christmas says. “It’s like those coaches in a small town, what he means to a community. Ours just happens to be in a city."
Oddo is quick to credit his assistants at every opportunity. He’ll seemingly never veer from the wing-T offense that few teams employ. And although his offense is old school, he has no trouble relating to the players a quarter of his age. “We’ll kid with them, but they know where the line is drawn. I think playing football in high school should be an enjoyable experience for them.” —C. M.
Web Exclusive: Q&A with Coach Oddo:
What is the best part of being a coach?
The interaction and relationship you build with your players and coaches. It’s great when you see them after a period of time and renew the great times you shared.
What’s your fondest memory of a game?
1957. N.C. State (which he played for) and Duke were both undefeated after seven games and ranked in the top ten. It was the only game on TV in those days. We ended in a tie, 14 to 14, and N.C. State went on to win the ACC by beating South Carolina in the last game of the season on the last play of the game. Unbelievable.
What sports did you play as a youngster?
I played football and track in high school, but I enjoyed all sports.
Who are three famous folks you’d invite to dinner?
Joe Paterno, Vince Lombardi, and Lou Holtz.
Describe your coaching style.
H and H: out-hit them, out-hustle them, and make it fun.
What is something most folks don’t know about you?
My parents are from Italy and did not speak any English. They settled in a Polish neighborhood, so as a kid I spoke Italian, Polish, and a little English. I guess I was trilingual. I can’t speak any of them anymore!
What are your hobbies away from football?
Don’t fish, don’t hunt, don’t smoke, use very little alcohol—I guess it’s just football and TV.