Dale Carlson hasn't been in the metro-east long enough to venture far from the path that takes him daily from Lindenwood University-Belleville to his sparsely-furnished home just east of town.
So, with less than two weeks to go before the Lindenwood-Belleville Lynx kick off their fourth football season, just about all the new head coach's free time is spent cramming to learn his roster.
But everything Carlson really needs to know to prepare the Lynx for the season came with him from Valpairaso, Ind. That was his most recent stop in a 28-year coaching career that has led him to his sixth school in four states.
"My past has weaved through five or six different states, but that's a typical college coach's resume," said Carlson.
Two things on Carlson's resume stand out as atypical: He's been a head coach at every level from the NAIA to NCAA Division-I and he's had uncommon success with programs he started from scratch.
It was those those things that caught the eye of Lindenwood-Belleville Athletic Director Scott Spinner when he tagged the well-traveled Carlson to replace Jeff Fisher late in July.
"It stood out to us that he had built two quality and nationally-ranked programs in a relatively short period of time," Spinner said. "What he's done in his career — and at so many levels of college football — is really impressive. He's the right guy to take this program where we want it to go."
That journey begins on the Lynx's candy-striped home field at 1 p.m. Sept. 4 when Lindenwood-Belleville plays host to Siena Heights of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference.
SMALL COLLEGE COACH
Fisher started laying the foundation of the Lindenwood-Belleville program in 2012, but was unable to advance beyond four-win highs posted in each of his first two seasons. The Lynx won just two games last year and Fisher was fired with a 10-21 record.
Carlson's 111-124-1 lifetime record, meanwhile, was spoiled only by four dismal seasons at Valparaiso that yielded just three wins. Prior to signing on at the NCAA Division I-FCS level, he led Division III and NAIA programs from launch to national prominence on a four-year-or-less plan.
"I never really had my eyes set on being a Division I coach because I kind of decided I wanted to be an influence on the kids and be a teacher," he said. "That's not to say there aren't Division I coaches who don't do that. I know there are. But the other demands at the BCS level, I think, don't allow you to be that mentor and be that teacher.
"So I chose to be a small college head coach."
On that front, he's had nothing but success.
Ohio Dominican University finished 12-1 in NCAA Division III in 2007, just three years after Carlson brought football to the school for the first time. He started football at Indiana's Trine University (then known as Tri-State) in 1995 and by 1998 had the Thunder in a NAIA national semifinal game.
"The first time I (launched a program) I was shooting from the hip and really had no idea," Carlson said of his time at Tri-State. "The second time, we were a little better organized just having gone through it before, and we a were a little quicker than the last time getting the team to the top of the conference and the national playoffs."
Carlson, a linebacker during his playing days at Concordia University in Chicago, has earned a reputation for building high-scoring offenses that rely heavily on the arms of his quarterbacks.
The 1998 national semifinalist at Trine averaged 427 yards of total offense per game, 232 of which came through the air. That team scored 384 total points in 12 games.
Carlson's 2007 team at Ohio Dominican was even more dynamic, averaging 47.8 points and 429 passing yards over 13 games. Carlson's six years in Ohio yielded five All-Americans, seven Academic All-Americans, and more than 90 All-Conference performers.
Carlson bristles at his reputation as an offensive-minded coach, pointing out that success came from both sides of the line.
"When you look back at those championship years and runs we had at Tri-State and Ohio Dominican, the offense got a lot of pub but our defenses were top 20-25, too," he said. ""People kind of looked at me and say I'm a very offensive-minded coach. But, really, as a head coach, if you can't perform in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — you're not going to win very many games."
In 2009 Carlson was named the NAIA Independent Coach of the Year while earning MSFA-Mideast League Coach of the Year honors in 2007. He also earned American Football Coaches Association Region II and American Football Monthly/Schutt Sports NAIA National Coach of the Year honors in 2007.
He's not making any predictions as to when the Lynx will reach the elite level, but believes that competing in the American Midwest Conference every week offers the best test.
"You can argue about which league is the best, but if you look at who's going to the championships the last couple years and it's been a Mid-States team that's been involved," he said. "If you can be successful in this league, you can be successful on a national level."
For Lindenwood-Belleville senior running back Kam Harris, a product of Althoff, the arrival of Carlson is bittersweet. Fisher was a mentor to Harris, but the chance the opportunity to work under a coach with Carlson's resume is exciting, he says, even if it costs him some touches.
"I feel like we're going to have to adapt to him because does thing different," Harris said as he walked on the field for his third practice in Carlson's system. "But it's football and football is about adapting to situations. Coach likes to pass the ball a lot and that involves me as a player of course.
"But it's been a long three years and it's time to get everything that we've worked for. We've been through the bad and it's time to get some good."