MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

January 16, 2014

Reunion will be awkward: Ex-MHS coach returns tonight with Union squad

John Petty knows it didn’t have to be this way.

He also knows he didn’t hire himself.

But, as he says, it is an imperfect world. And what once seemed an improbable matchup occurs at 7 p.m. tonight at Ron Milam Gymnasium. Former MHS associate head coach Dan Jefferson returns with a Union team that was the opposition a year ago to face kids he’s known as his own.

Petty, who was director of wrestling for the Atlanta Wrestling Academy, was the board’s pick over Jefferson. That capped a unsettling summer in which the job was removed from Jefferson’s dad, Bob Jefferson. Bob resigned as athletic director in the fall, ending a 34-year relationship that saw him coach sons Dan and Shae and eventually coach alongside them.

Dan soon was hired as an assistant at Union and Shae as a coach at Pryor.

“In a perfect world, I’m not sitting here,” Petty said. “If they’d worked things out, (Bobby) Jefferson could have left on his terms, how he wanted. I know he did great things for the program — maybe in a perfect world this is renamed the Jefferson Gym. I’ve heard what he’s done for the sport not only here but statewide.

“Now that we’ve moved on, my focus is what are we doing for the kids? That’s where my attention is. Big match? Talk to me Jan. 30. This may impact seeding, but that match will tell us if we’re headed to dual state.”

For Dan, there’s also a sense of perspective. It’s not about the coaches, even though some looking on will be viewing it that way.

“A lot of guys we got into wrestling and some of that is difficult in that you had a relationship with them and I’d be lying to say it didn’t hurt,” he said. “It hurt everybody, even those who weren’t involved, and they (the board) knew how close we were.

“Personally I can’t say those feelings aren’t there. Again, I would be doing my guys here wrong by making it into something or bringing those emotions up by what has happened in the past. My focus as I told the team last night is, it’s a business trip.”

And a fresh start.

For Petty, it’s been like the new stepdad from the time he walked in the BEST Center for his interview last August and through a crowd protesting the fact that there was even a selection process going on. To this day, some people who have been around the program won’t shake his hand.

“People ask how things going I say it’s a regular wrestling season, but when I look at the kids, this has been mentally to me like they’re coming out of a divorce, and divorce is tough on kids,” Petty said. “When they’ve fallen down they’ve gotten right back up.”

He’s been slow to instill his philosophy, focusing first on building relationships and trust. His first practice was letting the seniors lead it in the way it had been done previously, and even with the holdover assistants, Hugo Artaega and Richard Agee, doing the same thing.

“I wanted to see them in familiar surroundings,” Petty said. “This isn’t about me. It’s the institution of the sport, the school we’re trying to serve. I’m going to be who I am. I wouldn’t desire to be another. If I tried to be a Jefferson, I’d be a second-rate Jefferson. It’s how I feel about filling big shoes. I never try to do that and I don’t like talking about myself very much at all.

“But I do think a kid will come in here and respect this chair because of the position in represents. It’s my job to get everyone on the same sheet of music. It’ll be even better if the community gets behind it.”

The two have met briefly at the Perry tournament in December. Muskogee was sixth and Union eighth out of 20 schools.

“I couldn’t be in a better spot, teaching-wise or athletic-wise,” Jefferson said, adding he figured his dad, who just had knee replacement surgery, would be in attendance. “Marla Robertson, who was at one time my principal at Muskogee, is the building principal at the campus I’m at, which was an act of God how that played out. We’re just waiting on our house in Muskogee to sell because I don’t want to deal with two.”

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