By Dave Wagner
It’s been nearly 13 years since Don Carthel walked away from his last head football coaching position.
The Friona native spent seven seasons (1985-91) at the helm of Eastern New Mexico University, compiling a 44-28-1 record with the Greyhounds. But with his two children growing up, he wanted to spend more time with them.
“My son and daughter were starting high school, and I wanted to watch them play,” he said.
Still, he never got coaching out of his system altogether.
Carthel, 51, was recently hired to coach the Amarillo Dusters in the fledgling Intense Football League, an all-Texas arena circuit that begins play this spring.
“I never got rid of that itch,” Carthel said of coaching. “I guess I couldn’t get it out of my blood.”
It’s not that he hasn’t at least kept his finger in it. Carthel, who farms near Friona with his father and two brothers, has served as a head coach in six of the last seven years in the Division II Cactus Bowl all-star game.
He’s also worked as a volunteer at Abilene Christian University, where his son Colby has been the defensive line coach for four seasons.
The Dusters open at home in the Amarillo Civic Center on May 1 against Lubbock. Other teams in the league are in Odessa, San Angelo, Corpus Christi and El Paso.
The regular season ends in late August. Four of the six teams qualify for the playoffs on the first two weekends in September.
Carthel said the IFL is somewhere between the level of the Arena Football League and its farm league, Arena Football2. Teams can carry 19 active players, plus two players on a “taxi” squad.
“We’re above Arena2; we can pay more, so we’re able to get slightly better athletes,” he said. “We’re getting guys out of NFL camps or Arena (AFL) camps.”
Carthel admits he doesn’t really know what to expect.
“It’s scary,” he said. “We’re recruiting what I think are really, really good athletes. But I don’t know if we’re going to be good enough or not.”
He acknowledges the eight-man arena game will make for some different strategies. But Jack Scott, who coached Carthel during his playing days at ENMU from 1970-73, thinks his former player is well-suited to the eight-man arena game.
“Donnie’s so darned bright, he’ll catch onto it,” said Scott, who still lives in Portales and attends many ENMU events. “Donnie’s a hell of a recruiter. In this kind of game, I think he’ll be really good.”
Scott said Carthel’s class helped ENMU turn around about a decade of losing seasons in his junior year.
“Donnie was a good guy,” Scott said. “I thought he did a hell of a job here. I thought he did a lot for the school, and I was really surprised when he quit (as coach).”
Carthel stepped down after leading Eastern to the school’s first Lone Star Conference title in 1991.
Carthel said he enjoyed his time at Eastern, as a player and a coach. He played center for the Greyhounds his last three seasons, and was a placekicker all four years.
“It was fun,” he said. “I was real fortunate because the people (in the area) embraced us. And we were able to recruit good players.”