The conversation came as Trent Dilfer and his wife, Cassandra, were winding down from a busy day. As is their custom, it came after a day of practice with his Lipscomb Academy football team, with the television in the background.
"This conversation, going to the NFL, going to college football, has kind of been a topic of conversation for years now," said Dilfer, who is concluding his fourth season as the head football coach at the Nashville-based private school on Thursday. "I looked at her and said, I think we're staying here. I think we found our thing. We're high school football coaches, we're changing people's lives, and we feel great about doing it."
Cassandra shared her own message.
"She looked at me and said, 'That's true, but I want you to think about something. You were made for something more, and you've done what you can do with where we're at. I want you to stretch yourself, and I want you to listen,’" Dilfer said.
Shortly afterward, he listened after receiving a call from UAB athletic director Mark Ingram, who was in the midst of a coaching search that began in late June and wasn't slated to end until the final days of November or the early days of December. Ingram said he expected the conversation to last 10 minutes. The two talked for 90 minutes.
Neither knew it at the time, but Ingram had found himself the next UAB football coach. And the 50-year-old Dilfer found himself back in college football for the first time since his playing days at Fresno State.
On Thursday, at the Alumni House on the UAB campus, Ingram officially introduced Dilfer as the seventh head coach in UAB football history. Officially, it began with that phone call. Realistically, though, it started with the conversation two weeks prior.
"In my head, I like, oh man, she's right again, I can't admit it, but she's right again," Dilfer said. "But it was intriguing because UAB was somewhere I'd been aware of. I'm trying to think of a program I'm not aware of. I don't know a whole lot about App State. I couldn't tell you where it's at, right? I know a lot about UAB. I've followed Coach Clark. It's a sleeping giant. I know about the facility upgrades. I know a lot about Alabama [high school] football this year because I was scared to death of playing Thompson this year. I studied a lot about Alabama high school football."
Dilfer spent the past four seasons building Lipscomb Academy into one of the top teams in Tennessee. He took over a program that was 3-19 in the years before he arrived, and he's leaving with a program that is 43-10 overall heading into Thursday's TSSAA II-AA state championship game against CPA. This marks the third consecutive season that Dilfer directed his team into the state title game.
That's just part of a football journey that began with a childhood on the football field as the son of a coach. He played collegiately at Fresno State before embarking on a 14-year NFL career. He was the quarterback on a Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens team and played in the 1997 NFL Pro Bowl.
After his retirement, Dilfer spent nine years as an ESPN analyst while also beginning the Elite 11 Academy, which was launched to train elite-level high school quarterbacks. Dilfer quickly built a national reputation as one of the top quarterback coaches. His Elite 11 alumni are peppered throughout the NFL and college football. Of the 2022 starting quarterbacks in NCAA FBS Power Five conferences, 60 of 64 participated in the Elite 11 Finals or Elite 11 Regional.
"What impressed me so much is how he approaches the game," Ingram said. "He thinks very differently, he talks very differently, and the way he impacts the players' lives. I got to admit, like some of you probably. I thought ‘I'm not hiring a high school football coach. I'm just not going to do that.’ Frankly, you know what? I was right. I am not hiring a high school football coach. I'm hiring the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft, a guy who spent 14 years playing quarterback at the highest level. I'm hiring a guy who is a Pro Bowler, who was the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl championship team. A guy who spent nine years with ESPN, doing analytics, commentary and draft coverage. A guy who is the head coach of the nation's premier passing academy, Elite 11. And a guy who has coached countless college and NFL quarterbacks."
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