MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

March 27, 2014

New coach settles in: Roughers’ mentor will keep existing staff, seeks two more

One month and change into his new job, Muskogee head football coach Rafe Watkins has had time to begin building his program.

It’s a program that won’t lose but one member of the former coaching staff not counting the guy he succeeded, new University of Tulsa quarterbacks coach Josh Blankenship.

Brian Hobbs has joined Bobby Klinck, Blankenship’s first defensive coordinator at Muskogee, on David Alexander’s new staff at Broken Arrow. Klinck joins that staff as an assistant after a two-year head coaching stint at East Central. Alexander and Watkins were the finalists at BA.

Watkins has two spots to fill but will retain the rest of the staff. David Heath, a former college teammate of his at Northwestern State, will remain as defensive coordinator. Jason Medrano, who wore the offensive coordinator tag last year but whose primary responsibility was the offensive line, will focus on that spot again as Watkins will “coordinate” the offensive game plan.

“I know people always want to blame the coaching staff, but this is a good staff here,” Watkins said on Wednesday, referring to three straight losing seasons under the previous leadership. To be fair, some of those, Heath and Medrano among them, were on the staffs that produced three semifinal appearances from 2005-2007.

“These are good guys,” Watkins added. “I’ve interviewed every one of them. We’ve talked football, they’re working hard for me. I never want to sound negative on anything, but the same thing was said about the staff when I got to Guthrie. I kept them all and was able to add a couple of guys and we won state championships. It’s all about if everyone can buy into the same beliefs.”

Just who Watkins’ two additions will be is unclear. He had a desire to pursue a deal with Taylor Schwerdtfeger but the El Reno head coach is staying put on the heels of a car accident that claimed the lives of the school’s quarterback and one other player.

Watkins’ next biggest task has been dealing with academics among athletes in the off-season. Within four weeks, he said, they’ve split the number of those ineligible to participate in half, but he’s not happy with those levels or the habits.

“What I really want is for them to be involved in extracurricular activities year-round. I’m totally for sharing athletes,” he said.

“If they’re out of their season it’s not as important to them, because they don’t have anything to be eligible for. I don’t want to see any kid hurt, but I’d rather see a kid in a cast than a kid in street clothes that wasn’t taking care of his business. They all need to keep their grades up and be good citizens.”

The kids he wants in off-season — the guys who will man the trenches — are all in off-season.  They’ll be a key to his two-tight, run-oriented offensive approach.

“That’s where the difference is between us and the Broken Arrows is what you have up front,” he said. “They’ll run two strings of defensive linemen at you and wear you down.”

But Watkins and the Roughers no longer have to worry about the Broken Arrows and others with twice the players, thanks to the Class 6A split into two divisions that goes into effect this fall. It puts a different spin on the emphasis on roster numbers, one he isn’t going to spend much time fretting about.

“My first year at Guthrie I had 89 sophomores through seniors and 45 freshmen. In 2007 we won it with 70 on the roster and in 2011 we had 50,” he said.

“If you average 20 per class and those are the right 20, there’s nothing wrong with that. We want enough to run a JV schedule and have the right ones on varsity.”

Watkins said he’d like as many one-way players as possible. “But that’s not realistic,” he said. “We’ll have our share of two-way kids, especially skill-wise, and I’m fine with that.”

He’s also planning to impart the same basic offensive and defensive schemes he’ll run at the high school level down to the youngest of the city’s youth leagues.

“Those that won state for us at Guthrie last year ran the only system they ever knew in doing it,” he said. “Between  practice for  state and their growing-up years I bet they ran the same stuff 3,000 or 4,000 times.”

May 19 will start a two-week spring session. Watkins won’t take his players to the University of Tulsa team camp in June but will have his own camp in July, as well as a weekly passing league.

He added he’s impressed with the district-wide Summer Pride program organized and operated by the coaching staff and other volunteers. Some of that is speed and conditioning work for current athletes in all sports.

“I wish we’d had this in Guthrie. It’s a great thing for the community,” he said. “The hard part is getting it organized.  

“Football planning is the fun and easy part. I’m concerned about being so busy with certain things with Summer Pride and worrying about having enough time individually with the football boys. It’s just something I’ve never been a part of before, so we’ll see.”

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