THOMAS — Last week at Miller's Diner in this small Custer County town in western Oklahoma, a man walked up to the counter and ordered a bowl of soup for “Mr. Roof.”
The woman taking the order glanced over at the soon to be 88-year-old man sitting in the booth and corrected the customer.
“That's not Mr. Roof,” she said. “That's Coach Roof.”
Kenneth Roof hasn't coached a high-school football game in 25 years, but he is still “coach” to everyone who ever lived in Thomas.
In 37 years as an assistant or head football coach at Thomas High School, Roof helped guide the Terriers to seven state championships — including three in a row in 1955, '56 and '57 — and 35 district titles.
Before he was a high-school football coach, Roof was All-American Bob Fenimore's successor in the backfield at Oklahoma State, then known as Oklahoma A&M, in the late '40s.
In 1947, Roof set the school record for yards per carry (7.56) for a single season. It was a record that stood at OSU until it was broken by a running back named Barry Sanders.
Before becoming Fenimore's successor, Roof was an all-state running back at Thomas in 1942, rushing for more than 1,100 yards his senior season.
In observance of the anniversary of The Oklahoman's 100th All-State team, to be announced Sunday, the newspaper is recognizing players from the previous 99 years.
Thomas only lost one football game in the years Roof piloted the Terriers' single wing offense.
“I was quick,” said Roof, who was 5-10 and weighed only 168 pounds his senior season. “That was my strong suit. I could get off. I didn't want to run over people because I couldn't. I wasn't big enough. I tried to dodge them. I ran scared.”
In 1942, Roof became the first Oklahoma high school athlete to win four individual events at the state track meet. Oklahoma high schools were divided into only two classes at the time.
Roof finished first in the long jump, triple jump, pole vault and the discus. But he received no medals because all of the metal at the time was needed for the war effort.
“They gave me some old raggedy ribbons,” Roof said. “I didn't even put them up.”
Years later, one of Roof's former players at Thomas, Donald Friesen, had four gold medals made to recognize the feat and presented them to him. It was just one example of the admiration Roof's players had for him.
“Mr. Roof taught his players to respect every opponent, but fear none,” said Friesen, who played on Thomas' three straight state championship teams in the 1950s, a starter on the '56 and '57 squads.
“His discipline was firm, but administered with dignity, and he was a gentleman in all things.”
Roof would come to practice each day wearing thigh pads because he often would coach his players by scrimmaging against them.
Like many of the boys who played for him, Roof grew up on a farm near Thomas, located 17 miles north of Weatherford.
Even while he was coaching in Thomas, Roof spent his summers working the wheat harvest.
“Farm boys always made good football players,” Roof said. “Why? Because they know what work was. Football is work, if you are going to play it right.”
Roof spent a year on the family farm after high school graduation before being drafted into military service.
He spent two years stationed in Texas, where he played for an unbeaten Army football team.
After leaving the military, he went to OSU and played for head coach Jim Lookabaugh. Roof averaged six yards a carry in his collegiate career.
After leaving OSU, Roof turned down an opportunity to try out for the Chicago Bears and returned to Thomas.
He took a job as an assistant for the coach he respected the most, Joe Ross, his high school coach at Thomas.
Together, they had a phenomenal coaching run in the 1950s, when the Terriers won five state titles,
“If Thomas had a Mount Rushmore, Mr. Ross and Mr. Roof would be on it,” Friesen said.
In his 18 years as an assistant coach at Thomas, several schools tried to lure Roof away from his hometown to be a head football coach. Roof was tempted but never left.
“I liked it here in Thomas too much,” he said. “It was a great place to raise a family.”
Roof was Ross' assistant on six state championship teams. After Ross retired, Roof became head coach and led the Terriers to the 1969 state title.
In Roof's 19 years as head coach at Thomas, the Terriers went unbeaten in the regular season six times and won the district championship each year. He finished with a career head coaching record at Thomas of 189-44-2.
Two of Roof's four children, Woody and Kim, followed him into the coaching profession. Woody Roof, an all-state quarterback at Thomas in 1966, later won five state football championships as head coach in Elk City, Weatherford and Watonga. He is now athletic director in Weatherford.
Roof's daughter, Kim, an all-state basketball player in 1974, led Altus to three state tournament appearances as head basketball coach. She is now living with and taking care of her elderly parents.
Roof entered the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1981.
He still lives in Thomas and attends all of the Terriers' home games. The Terriers' football field is named for Ross, while the track around the field bears his name.
Roof, who will celebrate his 88th birthday next month, is still a fiery competitor, but now his game is dominoes instead of football, playing at least twice a week at the local grain elevator.
“I'm not the worst. Maybe next to the worst,” Roof said of his domino game.
He hates to lose at dominoes, just like he did in football.
“If you are going to play, you better hate to lose,” he said.