Rafe Watkins saw head coaching material in John Graham, which is why he put in a word for him at the place he spent the past two years.
Watkins is equally glad to have him back as his offensive coordinator.
Graham spent two seasons at Prague, going 8-4 his first season and 5-5 last fall.
“He was here when I got here,” Watkins said, noting Graham’s one season under previous head coach Josh Blankenship’s staff. “I knew he would be an offensive coordinator or head coach really quick.”
When Jason Medrano left to become the head coach at Catoosa, Watkins targeted Graham, a Wagoner native whose wife’s family is from Tahlequah.
“If Medrano got that job I was wanting John in that spot but would have hired him anyway,” Watkins said. “It was a situation that worked out best for him and his family. This is just closer to home.”
Graham says he’s better off for having the experience, but is glad to be back.
“There’s things you don’t learn until you get a head coaching job. You deal with parents a lot more.” Graham said. “It takes a lot more with all the relationships — parents, administration, the school, the kids and the coaches you work with. You’ve got to build those relationships. It’s a lot more than Xs and Os and drawing up game plans.”
Graham’s way with teaching and relationships was a big plus with Watkins.
“His demeanor. He loves football and is a great teacher,” Watkins said. “He’ll get fiery but he’s got a calmness that helps with the kids and the assistants. Those that knew him were all glad to get him back.”
Graham served as an undergraduate assistant under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and was tight ends coach and receivers coach over two seasons at Northeastern State under Brad Cornelson, then NSU’s offensive coordinator now serving in that capacity at Virginia Tech.
“I just took in what I could learn under Petrino. He was great at making adjustments and ditating the defensive look to gain an advantage,” Graham said. “Coach Cornelson is who I would say taught me the most — detail-oriented, but always harped on being simplistic but looking complicated. Master a few plays instead of being mediocre at a lot.”
And that’s the approach he’s bringing with him here.
“I want the kids to be confident in our schemes,” Graham said. “If they’re thinking too much or worried about getting in trouble, they’re going to play slow. We try to simplify technology and still look complicated. If the kids bust a play due to attitude or effort, that’s on us to teach better. The only thing I’ll not accept is bad attitude or effort.”
He likes the chemistry of his offensive staff as well.
“I enjoyed working with Rafe and coming back here I inherited the best situation as far as coaching wise. Everybody, eaton Callins (quarterbacks coach), Kye Staley (running backs), two offensive line coaches in (Josh) McMillan and (Dalton) Julian, who came with me from Prague, and (Ryan) Dvorak, who is coaching receivers, they all make my job a lot easier.
“I coach the coaches more than the players. Once I tell them what we’re trying to accomplish, they know what they’re doing, so we go out and execute it. I think we’re going to work out very well together.”
Those messages are ultimately for an offense that will rely more on the run. It’s a unit that returns 10 starters, including quarterback Ty Williams, running back Jimmie Coleman and a depth behind the latter which will bring about a tailback and a fullback/slotback that will be more of a skill back position than a blocker, giving the Roughers two breakaway and dual threats.
“(Graham) kind of takes away the clutter and like, with the line, I see is especially getting familiar with assignments. And all of this makes it easier for me,” Williams said. “The second back is an equal threat who can go out on a route too.”
Graham said the approach will help best utilize the depth at running back from a cast that includes Maurice Chaplin, Caleb Webb and Isaiah Givens.
“With so many of them there’s no reason not to find a way to utilize two of them out there. It’ll allow us to dictate where defenses line up,” Graham said.