Hall of fame inductee Joe Dye transformed Parker football
JANESVILLE—Joe Dye holds no grudges against his doubters. There were far too many of them to take it personally more than two decades later, and some of them came from far too close to home.
Dye was an assistant coach for the Janesville Parker High football team in the 1980s and early '90s. He recalls a certain car ride home from one of many losses. His son, Jeff, told him, “I hate Parker; Parker always loses.”
In 1993, Dye was hired to take over the program as head coach, and he heard from plenty of others.
“They've never won there; you'll never win there,” he was told.
Dye spent 19 years as Parker's head football coach, taking the Vikings from a 3-51 record in the six seasons leading up to his hiring to being five-time Big Eight Conference champions. He also guided the Parker boys track and field team to multiple dual-meet and conference-meet titles and coached three WIAA state champions before retiring in 2013.
Now in his third year as Parker's athletic director, Dye was a no-doubt selection for the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame. He'll join Shawn Fredricks, Joe Kaster, George Lynch and Eric Burdette in being inducted during a ceremony Saturday, May 10, at the Janesville Country Club.
“He always exuded the highest character and the highest level of integrity,” Middleton head football coach Tim Simon said. “Good games, bad games, wins, losses, during the season or out of season, he never varied from that.
“If you have a son that plays football, you want that son to be coached by Joe Dye. You want that son to be running track for Joe Dye. If you have a kid taking math class, you want Joe Dye teaching that class, pure and simple.”
The foundation for Dye's success was a tenacious work ethic. He credits his father and grandfather, the latter of whom he spent childhood summers with on a Missouri farm, with instilling that drive.
Dye described himself as an average or even below-average high school athlete at Beloit Turner. But his experiences there—learning from his friend's father who was the athletic director and from his teachers and coaches—gave him the desire to teach and coach.
“I wanted to have a great part in it because I just saw the relationships you can build with kids,” Dye said. “You can talk about curriculum or you can talk about mechanics, but sooner or later, the kids who are playing want to know that we care about kids.
“I could never say thank you loud enough, in a large enough public arena, to the people that partnered with me as we built our programs at Parker High School.”
While Beloit was home growing up, Dye never had specific designs on returning to the area. He met his wife, Janis, also a longtime educator, at UW-Whitewater, and the two moved to Menasha after graduation.
Dye coached girls track and field and latched onto head football coach Jim Corrigan and his staff as a volunteer assistant.
“I was a sponge,” he said. “I went to every clinic, every football thing you can think of. Jim Corrigan won a conference championship, the only one Menasha has won in the Fox Valley. He subsequently got fired two years later.”
Dye decided it was time for a change for himself, as well.
At a state football clinic, Dye found a hand-written note on a bulletin board. Parker football coach Don Barnabo was potentially looking for an assistant.
Dye joined the Vikings as an assistant coach in 1980. He took over as the head boys track and field coach in '81.
“(Speed has) kind of become vogue for people,” Dye said. “There are all kinds of persons out there now that are vendors, selling the opportunity to gain athletic movement, gain speed.
“We built our whole training program based on infusing speed and athletic movement, and we never charged one kid one nickel.”
It wasn't until 1993, however, that Dye finally realized his goal of becoming a head football coach.
Some in the community wondered aloud about hiring a coach from within as opposed to venturing out of district.
The process of building up the program, which had recently endured a 37-game losing streak, began immediately.
“He transferred his passion for planning and the care of the players and his desire to win to the other coaches,” said Dave Figi, a longtime Dye assistant who coached Parker's sophomores. “Joe has a great sense of humor, but you can read between the lines that there are expectations. Things have to be done in a certain way.
“Joe was kind of neat in the way he organized things (with coaches). It could have been at an informal dinner or at a fast-food restaurant. I don't know when he ever slept.”
The first few years were stressful. The Vikings went 2-7, then 3-9, then 2-7 again. Internally, Dye questioned whether the team was on the right track, but he never wavered.
In 1996, Parker made its first WIAA playoff appearance. The Vikings went back every year but one until Dye resigned after the 2011 season, but they won just one playoff game in the '90s.
“We learned right away that you have to ratchet it up,” Dye said. “Our first few trips to Mukwonago were not fun.
“But all of the sudden, you wake up one day, and you're in a different place.”
Those days came in 2000. Entering the season, a Madison newspaper listed the Big Eight Conference teams and their most recent league championships. Parker was the only team listed with “none.”
After six games, the Vikings found themselves in a three-way tie in the league standings at 4-1. The next week brought a date with Big Eight power Middleton, which was a half-game ahead at 5-1.
Senior Phil Austin stunned the Cardinals with a 43-yard fake-punt scramble for a touchdown in the second quarter and kicked a 21-yard field goal with 84 seconds remaining to deliver a 16-14 victory.
“I would say the game that really turned the corner for us was our 2000 game against Middleton,” Dye said. “And if there's a single play that probably made it happen, the fake punt.”
Parker went on the road to Madison West and notched a 28-0 victory in Week 8, setting up a showdown with Madison La Follette. The winner between the teams with 6-1 league marks would likely share the conference crown with Sun Prairie, and Dye decided to utilize a bit of locker room inspiration.
He had managers put a sheet in every player's locker. On the sheet was the preseason graphic showing Parker as the lone team in the league never to win a conference title. It also included anecdotes about setting lofty goals rather than those that are easily attainable and a note from Dye that said, “The choice is ours!!”
Lancers running back Nate Brown had piled up 444 yards rushing in his two previous games. But the Vikings held him to 20 yards on nine carries, and Parker back Cas Prime carried a whopping 39 times for 140 yards. Parker jumped out to a 10-point lead and held on to win 17-14, delivering a share of the program's first-ever Big Eight title.
“Before the season, Joe was discouraged, and he wondered if we'd ever get it done,” Figi said. “But he just kept working, and that season they were Big Eight champs. He took a group that, as sophomores, had a very below-average record, and they won. And things started to grow from there.”
Dye and the Vikings proved they were no fluke. They won a Big Eight title in each of the next three seasons, as well, and again in 2006. Dye was named the league's Coach of the Year in four of those five seasons.
In 2001, the Vikings advanced all the way to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals, but a loss to Kenosha Tremper kept them from a state berth.
Nine of Dye's football players were named Associated Press first-team all-state, and Dye was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
“He was a mentor to me and, I think, to a lot of coaches in the Big Eight,” Simon said. “I'd call him for advice, things he was doing with his program, and he was always willing to share ideas and philosophies.
“He was in it for the right reasons. It was all about the kids.”
Dye's track programs won Big Eight dual-meet and conference titles in 2003 and 2005.
As a teacher, he earned accolades as the Janesville School District's High School Teacher of the Year in 1999 and was a UW-Madison Rockwell Teacher of Teachers Award recipient in 2003.
Sit with him for an hour and he'll mention how blessed he was to have countless determined and committed athletes at Parker. And Dye especially relished the fact that the Vikings broke through on the football field while his son, Jeff, was in school.
His daughter, Jenni—who is engaged to marry Ben Brikowski this summer—graduated in 1999. Jeff—whose family now includes wife, Kacie, a son, Dathan, and a daughter, Avery, who was born Saturday morning—graduated in 2002 and still has the sheet he found in his locker following the victory at Madison West in 2000.
“I will never forget that time I was driving home and my son said, 'I hate Parker. Parker always loses,'” Joe Dye said. “I just vowed to myself that, if ever given a chance, I wanted to try and create a different environment for kids at Parker.”
Without a doubt, he accomplished that goal.