By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Having met the kids and the existing coaching staff, Wednesday night was Rafe Watkins’ turn to meet the community.
Save for some boosters and business people here and there, this was the community’s chance to cold-call on the new Muskogee High football coach.
And he saw one of his challenges. A crowd of 70 wasn’t as good as hoped but it just gave him a chance to emphasize one of his keys for success.
“It takes a village for us to have championship teams,” he told the gathering brought together by the MHS Quarterback Club in the school cafeteria. “The kids don’t just need it when they’re at school and with the staff, they got to have it when they go home to momma and daddy. It’s all got to be positive. The more they hear from you guys it’s going to be great the better off we’ll all be. Winning is contagious and it starts in the mindset. It’s not a rebuilding deal, it’s more of an attitude change. That’s more for the town than anything because the boys want to win.”
One overwhelming negative involving numbers won’t be an excuse anymore. Watkins takes over a program that will be split from the 16 largest Class 6A schools including every state champion since 1997. That of course, is two schools — Jenks and Union —joined among others by Broken Arrow, the school he was a finalist to succeed Steve Spavital just weeks before Muskogee landed him.
So when he saw 40 in offseason work Monday and Tuesday and between 30 and 40 involved in other sports, or even the 130 kids in his first meeting during school hours, he was unfazed.
“Thirty to forty of those 130 were trying to get out of class,” he said with a knowing grin. “I’m not a huge numbers guy but as long as you got 60-80 out, the right ones are the key.”
Tracy Cole, who was on the search committee and in attendance Wednesday, said he thinks they’ve got the right village chief in the former Guthrie coach, who won four state championships there before giving way to his defensive coordinator, approved on Monday. Cole’s son Adonis is a lineman and wrestler.
“If you go with the record (147-48 career) and go with what he’s done in the past, he’s exactly what we need to get us back where we’re supposed to be,” Cole said. “He’s energetic and approachable.”
Watkins and the staff are bound for a coaches clinic in Dallas this weekend where he hopes to get to know them better. Interviews will start next week and he said he could bring anywhere from two to 10 on board.
But as soon as he threw those numbers out, he quickly shifted from the high end.
“I don’t see that happening but for being around these guys so far, just observing, I think it’s a great group and I think they can coach,” he said. “Honestly a lot of it’s been unfair situations.”
Meaning, he said, those high 6A numbers which are no longer an issue.
“I’ll bring in one or two guys who know more about what I am and what I do,” he said. “Others may move to a different area of responsibility than they’ve had. We’ll see how everybody fits.”