A Granbury High School graduate accomplished a career goal of a lifetime when he was named to the American Football Coaches Association 35 Under 35 Leadership Institute.
Tyler Wright — current assistant coach and special teams coordinator for the New Mexico State University football team — was chosen from a field of over 175 highly qualified applications.
According to its official website, the AFCA 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute is a prestigious program aimed at identifying and developing premier, future leaders in the football coaching profession. Selected participants are invited to attend the one-day institute that features a curriculum of interactive lectures focused on topics specifically tailored to emphasize leadership in the coaching profession, ethics, influential responsibilities, career progression and family balance.
Wright, 31, served as a wide receiver for the Granbury Pirates and graduated from GHS in 2011. Following graduation, he attended Tarleton State University in Stephenville, and it was then he initially started pursuing a coaching career. He chose to follow in the footsteps of his stepdad, Earl Gandy, who was also a high school coach, while his mom, Wendy Gandy, worked in the GISD Administration Building.
“I got into coaching high school football because I wanted to help grow and develop young men,” Wright told the HCN. "Football is just like teaching a class. If you're trying to teach them a concept or teach them a blocking scheme or teach them a patch route, you got to find a way to where it resonates with them and make it to where they can go out and execute it.”
In 2015, Wright started coaching football at Permian High School in Odessa, where he coached wide receivers for a total of three seasons.
But something was still missing for Wright.
"The whole time I was there, I knew I wanted to move up to the college game at some point,” Wright said. “I was trying to move up, and obviously it just never happened, but then finally, one of my coaches from Tarleton got the head coaching job at (The University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa) when they were starting their program, and so I went there and coached college football and quarterbacks.”
After coaching at UT Permian Basin for a season in 2018, Wright got hired as a graduate assistant at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in 2019, where he coached through the 2021 season.
In late 2021, a guy Wright worked with at TCU, Jerry Kill, was offered the head coaching job at New Mexico State University. Wright also chose to tag along with Kill to New Mexico — which resulted in his biggest career move to date.
"We took over a program that was literally ranked the last individual football and going on year two, we went 7-6 last year, won a bowl game, and then we're 10-4 currently and playing in a bowl game in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 16,” Wright said, before the game took place.
During the New Mexico Bowl, the New Mexico State Aggies played against the Fresno State Bulldogs, resulting in a 37-10 loss.
Although the team didn’t win the New Mexico Bowl, Wright said the New Mexico State football team was previously able to defeat Auburn University in Alabama 31-10 and played in a conference championship for the first time in school history.
“It’s a pretty big deal that we’ve been able to come in and kind of turn this historically bad program around and finally win some ballgames, so it’s been fun,” Wright said.
Wright explained the main difference between coaching high school football and coaching college football is recruiting players.
"In college, you get to go pick your players, and if you don't have good enough players, you go out and recruit and find better players to replace them,” he said. “But in high school, you're kind of given the roster that you have, and you got to find a way to coach them up. In high school, you have to be a much more detailed coach because you may have a couple guys that get to go play college football on your high school team, but most of the time you just have high school players who aren't as good of athletes as what we're coaching at the college level now. But at the end of the day football is still football. You have got to find a way to teach them and get them to learn.”
One of the selling points, Wright said, for transferring over to coaching college football is that he didn’t have to also serve as a teacher.
"I was social studies composite, so I was certified to teach every social studies (course) from economics, to geography, to world history, to Texas history to U.S. history to psychology, but the years that I was teaching, I was doing world geography which wasn't too bad,” he said. “It was fine. It's just, you know, I wanted to be a football coach, and not have to worry about the classroom stuff.”
One of the biggest challenges of becoming a coach, he added, is the realization that playing football and coaching football are two very different things.
“I feel like I had a pretty good understanding of football, but once you start coaching, you realize that you don’t know near as much as you thought you did about the game of football and the little details, fundamentals and techniques,” he said. "The hand placement, the pad level, the footwork, you do all that stuff as a player, but you're not necessarily thinking of 'Why am I doing this?’ ‘How are we attacking the defense?' Once you trade that player hat in and you put on that coach cap, you learn more about the game of football than you ever thought existed.”
With Wright being added to the 2024 AFCA 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute, he will also receive a stipend to assist with expenses incurred while attending the AFCA Convention. According to the AFCA website, members will be published in “AFCA Magazine,” and “AFCA Insider” weekly email blast, and/or have their articles and videos added to the AFCA Educational Library. Additionally, participants will be placed on the AFCA Foundation Committee and become a part of a prestigious network of rising coaches in the profession along with many other great benefits.
Wright revealed that being selected to the AFCA 35 Under 35 Leadership Institute has been a goal of his since 2017.
"I'm not a big self-promoter,” he said. “I just want to be a good person, do a good job and coach my players. I want to love my players up and do what I can to help whatever team I'm coaching for win ballgames, because that's ultimately why we get into this — we want to help young men win because this is a results-based business especially. That's kind of what all my focus has been on — it hasn't been on trying to necessarily further my career. Getting this recognition, it was cool because it was kind of the first time other people acknowledged ‘Hey, you're a pretty good young coach.’ Having somebody else say it, it’s some validation like, ‘Hey, maybe I am in the right field, and maybe I am doing the right thing and heading in the right direction as far as my career trajectory is concerned.’”
Wright said his next career goal is to earn an opportunity to coach at a bigger school and to eventually work toward becoming a head football coach.
"I am just 31 years old and finishing up my ninth season coaching, and it's been a good nine years so far, but I still have a ways to go before becoming a head coach — things to learn, people to get connected to, things like that,” he added. “But for me, the ultimate goal is being a head coach along with trying to do a good job of being present daily in whatever job I have between now and then.”
For more information about the AFCA 35 Under 35 Leadership Institute, visit afca.com.