Rafe Watkins doesn’t have to pack and move for his next job.
Watkins is set to be named head football coach at Warner High School on Thursday night, pending board approval. He arrives there after seven seasons at Muskogee High.
“There really wasn’t anything close to home that was open,” said Watkins, who had talked before about getting closer to his hometown of Prague at some point before retirement. “And I looked at some out of state situations.”
Meanwhile, he said, superintendent David Vinson reached out to him.
“He sold me on coming down,” Watkins said. “I looked at it and it really is a breath of fresh air. It’s what you’d expect from a small school and it’s perfect. The schools and facilities are in great shape and I liked what I saw going on in the classroom as well.”
It's also good because Watkins' wife, Karen, is a principal at the Grant Foreman sixth grade school in Muskogee.
Warner was 7-5 and reached the third round of the Class A playoffs last fall, losing to Pawhuska. The Eagles’ second-round game against Okemah was wiped out due to COVID-19 issues at Okemah.
COVID-19 had its own impact on Watkins’ team at Muskogee. Not only did it wipe out spring ball and most summer activities for a young squad, it also wiped out four games on the Roughers’ schedule in what was an 0-7 ending to a seven-year run that saw five playoff appearances and one semifinal season.
His record at Muskogee was 34-36 and overall he’s 190-95 in a career that includes four 5A championships at Guthrie. Before that, his other head coaching jobs were at Alva and Chisholm, both 2A schools.
“Someone said something the other day about it being less pressure at a smaller school,” Watkins said. “I don’t care of I coach third grade tiddlywinks, the pressure is going to come from myself to try and win and be the best we can. There’s expectations to win there and we’ll go and win.
“As long as there’s 11 guys on the field, it’s football and I’m just looking forward to doing it.”
He also likes he’ll be more hands-on in terms of coaching as opposed to what he’s had to do in a larger school setting, including the junior high.
“They start school football at sixth grade and their youth league coaches from first grade on are striving to do what the high school does and call it what we call it, and I’ll do coaches clinics for them like I used to,” he said.
In a text announcing the hire, Brian Hummingbird, high school principal and athletic director, said, “We are super excited for Eagle football. We want to give a big thanks to coaches John Hart and Chuck Capps for lifting our program to a level that offered this great opportunity for coach Watkins to take the lead.”
Capps, who replaced Hart as coach, resigned at the end of the 2020 season.
Hummingbird knew Watkins when the former was an assistant at Coweta and Watkins was at Guthrie.
"I got to know him and obviously knew of his success there," said Hummingbird. "He's a man of outstanding character which means more than coaching ability but obviously he has that too. We're excited to have him."