By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Kevin Rodden remembered the exchange sitting across from former Oktaha coach Chris Burt during a point in the school’s search for a new baseball coach.
Burt, who retired from the job two seasons ago but was part of the search team, mentioned the top players that Rodden, 39, had been familiar with during the Tigers’ string of success over the time Rodden was in the Sallisaw Central dugout.
As of Tuesday, Rodden is no longer in the Central dugout, getting his release after formally accepting the task of following in Burt’s shoes. Rodden, a 1991 Muskogee High graduate, replaces Michael Adair, who filled the void since Burt’s departure.
“He said right now, we don’t have that type of kid,” Rodden said. “My thought was, ‘hey, you play fall-spring and you have nine months to develop that kind of kid.”
That helped sway him into leaving a program he’s been at for 14 seasons, punching four state tournament tickets in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. His team was 20-14 a year ago and he won his 300th career game in the regional tournament. He is 300-194 over that span at a school that unlike Oktaha, plays football.
“We’ve developed such good relationships and some of the best friendships we’ve ever had and that makes this a tough decision,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to move but it kind of just happened, and the more I thought about the tradition there, it intrigued me.
“The administration is very supportive and the atmosphere is just right. I met with the team briefly they all had their hats on right. I’m a sticker for little details like that and it kind of re-ignited some energy and passion in me.”
Rodden has three sons and a daughter, and two of the sons are middle-school age – and future players of his.
“They’ve played at a high level all over the country and I hope they’ll answer the bell. With the players that have been there, that’s big shoes to fill,” Rodden said.
Superintendent Jerry Needham said formal board approval was pending and that Rodden was selected from among 40 applicants.
Rodden played multiple positions at Muskogee High, then settled in at shortstop in college, playing at Eastern Junior College for two seasons before finishing at Southeastern Oklahoma.