Muskogee’s soon-to-be official head baseball coach will come out of the Love-Hatbox ranks.
Johnny Hutchens, a Fort Gibson graduate and one-time Tampa Bay Rays draft pick, was offered and accepted the job after being interviewed Monday. His hire will go before the board at a board meeting on Thursday.
Asked to confirm, athletic director Garrett Davis, who along with at least one board member was in the interview process, said in a text early Tuesday “once the board approves a coach we can talk about it.”
Once official, Hutchens will follow Nathan Frisby, who left after three seasons and took an assistant post at Wagoner High School.
Hutchens, who has his own power wash business, coaches his own kids and the Oklahoma Rays’ 10-and-under team that won the Love-Hatbox league. He was one of at least two interviewed Monday. At least three others were interviewed prior to Monday, including John Singler, an ex-Rougher who was part of Frisby’s staff.
A program that has lost 20 games each of the last three seasons, including one whose improbable regional run punched a Class 6A state tournament ticket in 2015, did not attract a great deal of interest, including that of several prominent possibilities. Oktaha’s Kevin Rodden, a former Rougher whose spring team was upset in the 2A semifinals after being ranked No. 1 throughout the season, did not apply for it. Neither did Victor Paden, a former Eufaula coach on the softball staff now.
“Might be the reason a guy like me got it,” Hutchens said, who will get emergency certification to teach computer-related classes. “If you’d asked me a week ago if I’d be a 6A baseball coach, I don’t think I’d believed it.”
But he’s not backing away from it either.
“My love for baseball, I love it and love seeing kids succeed. I want to see them succeed,” he said. “I’m going to work hard to help them succeed.”
He watched a few games last year and has worked privately with several players.
“Any kid does not want to play with a losing team and I realize that,” he said. “You have to create a good feeling about your program. The way I’ll attempt that is we’ll have camps involving kids and start teaching them the way you would like for them to play. On the flip side of that, your program starts having fun. That’s the biggest thing I see is a bunch of kids not having fun. That’s a hard thing to do because there’s a fine line in fun and goofing off with me.”
Former longtime Fort Gibson coach Randy Smith, now coaching at Anadarko Riverside, called Hutchens “one of my all-time favorites” as a player he said he first started working with when Hutchens was around the sixth grade. Hutchens became one of Smith’s top pitchers and had signed early with Oral Roberts and was drafted by Tampa Bay. But a stress fracture in his pitching arm limited him to one game his senior season and he wound up pitching at Cowley County (Kan.) Community College, but never got back to the form that got him drafted.
“The year he didn’t throw he was like a coach in the dugout. He’s got that ability. He was great at camps he worked with me and he knows the game,” Smith said. “Plus he’s worked hard all his life.
“I told him it was going to be a tough job, but I told him that I thought it would take someone with the kind of enthusiasm he has. He’s not looking to go anywhere else or use it as a stepping stone to go anywhere else, and the kids he’s coaching now will be at Muskogee High School. I think maybe the best thing they could do was go get an outsider.”
Scott Hennessey, a coach with the Tulsa Drillers and Hutchens’ coach at Cowley during a two-year run where the team won the NJCAA national championship in 1998, also commended the choice.
“He played at a high level, he was around coaches that taught him a lot,” Hennessey said. “He’s always expressed interest to me about coaching high school baseball. He knows how to handle people. It’s not going to be an adjustment for him. He’ll demand a lot and get a lot out of his players.”
Hutchens sees his Hatbox connections as a plus for retention.
“Muskogee’s losing too many baseball kids,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of contact with kids who will be playing at Muskogee. If we can hold on that long, we’ll have a really good team.
“Nobody knows exactly what they’re getting in to but you know, it’s a new chapter, I’m a big guy on perspective. You can make stuff as bad as you want it to be..in your own mind. Nothing’s impossible. We’re going to do our best to turn this around.”
Hutchens’ nephew, Cale Hutchens, was one of the Roughers’ top players last year but early this summer transferred to Collinsville. The hire may have come too late to retain him.
“They’ve bought a house up there already,” the incoming coach said.