MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 10, 2014

Review of MHS hire looks to be a plus

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— The reverberations from Rafe Watkins’ hire as the new Muskogee High head football coach seem to be positive.

That’s a good thing for an administration that hasn’t exactly brought unity in some recent hires and fires.

How good is the Watkins hire? Wagoner’s Dale Condict and former Tulsa Washington coach Antwain Jimmerson had state titles on their resumes, McAlester’s Bryan Pratt was close. And there were fans pulling for each. Same with David Heath, the MHS defensive coordinator who was part of the semifinal run of the previous decade, lost his job under Blankenship only to regain it. He deserved a shot at the job.

Watkins’ resume was heavier. He collected four state championships at Guthrie, a community he compares to Muskogee. Ron Lancaster, who brought similar excitement when he was hired in 2003, won only half that many in building his in-state coaching legend.

Add to that the impression that sold Watkins to Boyd Jones, the president of the Muskogee Quarterback Club: Jones said Watkins wasn’t talking about 3-4 year plans for success, but immediate success.

That’s attractive, but audacious when it’s been 8-21 here in three years. First impressions tend to stick, and if you’re promising a quick turnaround and do not deliver, well, just ask Josh Blankenship about that season opener in 2011 against Sand Springs. There wasn’t as bold a proclamation from Blankenship, but he came here with an offensive reputation spanning experiences of Union quarterback to NFL training camper to Union offensive coordinator, then took a team to Sand Springs and lost 7-3, the first such setback for MHS in 21 meetings.

Blankenship later admitted regrets with that game and some of you never forgave him for that.

Forget the impression in front of the committee. Watkins may have set himself under a similar microscope by reputation alone. But it’s a reputation that is as impressive as any that have come to the BEST Center seeking a job.

Unlike Blankenship, Watkins won’t be following a Sand Springs with a Jenks, thanks to the split that will water down the value of a Class 6A championship. Not that it will matter of his crew is hoisting a championship trophy next November.

While most of the reaction has been positive, there has been some criticism. Reaction I’ve both heard and read, including on our social media outlets, raises the concern of character and that Watkins had a run-in with the OSSAA in 2011 that led to an eight-game suspension. A kid moved to Guthrie with his family, an older brother stayed behind in a house that was slow to sell, someone connected to the school in the near-abandoned home reported it, and Guthrie went on to win state without Watkins.

Didn’t we hire Blankenship because of a desire to change a culture at Muskogee, they say? Free of cussing, for starters, but with the understanding that cheating is also an integrity issue?

Paperwork better be checked and double-checked for errors, lest the howling and the OSSAA police show up. I’m not sure the cussing ban will be as stringently enforced - word has it that most of those interviewed took a realistic view toward language slips while taking a dim view of chronic outbursts.

There’s far more to character than that, but when asked about the subject by phone Friday, Watkins suggested that discipline, a form of character, has to be there to bring success. Consider that much covered.

As one person uttered on Facebook, winning cures a lot of ills. I’m still of the opinion that Blankenship wouldn’t have ever coached here had 70-3 and 70-10 not fallen on Matt Hennesy.

If Watkins delivers, balm and sunglasses will be readily available, should it be needed.

So goes the thoughts here.