CLINTON — When Philip Koons agreed to become Clinton’s defensive coordinator under Mike Lee during the summer, he likened his excitement to the first day he worked for his father as a teenager.
“My dad owned a tire store and I used to go up and visit him and play in the tire room when I was a boy,” Koons said. “He said, ‘You’re going to come work here.’
“I’m just excited. (Lee and I are) not that much different in age, but I think more of him as that guy of, ‘Wow, I get to work for this guy and learn?’”
Koons maintains he was in the right place at the right time when he was named head coach earlier this month after Lee resigned due to health issues.
“Really you can say the planets aligned just right,” Koons said. “Who would have thought that I would be able to go from Tuttle to Clinton? I was hoping I would be the head guy one day. I’ve talked with friends of mine when I never thought of coming to Clinton, when I thought I would be at Tuttle for 30 years. I thought, ‘Man I wouldn’t want to follow that guy.’ And now I am.
“I’m not fooling anybody by coming here and saying I’m going to make this place better.”
Tradition reigns over Class 4A with programs like Ada, Weatherford and Woodward. But there’s also Clinton and Tuttle’s supremacy the past 20 years.
Lee led Clinton to nine titles since 1996, and Koons led Tuttle to two. Now, Koons is taking over the storied program from Lee, meshing the winning traditions in search of another gold ball.
“I’ve admired the way they play (at Tuttle),” said Lee, who will remain Clinton’s athletic director. “To me, it’s like watching us in red.”
That’s a fair observation, as both coaches are from the old-school mold. Both operate run-first offenses. Both preach physicality. Both are demanding. Both have more than 200 career victories.
“That’s why I really don’t think we’ll be that bad because he’s experienced, too,” senior running back Marquiz Simpkins said. “You can’t just win 200 games. That put my mind at ease a little bit.”
The winning tradition is what the community hopes to see continue as well.
More so than Tuttle, Koons said, he will have to get used to fans talking football at the local coffee shop or restaurant. Fans like 54-year-old Wade Anders, who was more than happy to talk about the program at the Dairy Best.
“This is a football tradition thing,” said Anders, who played on the 1978 team that won the Class 2A title. “You don’t have to talk with too many people that know that. Of course, we have other traditions but football we’re just known for that.”
When asked what stands out about the tradition, he had a simple answer.
“Because the kids don’t know any different,” Anders said. “I was raised up playing ball all the way from grade school and up; they don’t know ‘lose.’ They know ‘win’ and that’s what’s expected of you.
“Not too many kids come out of this school system that go and play D-I some place, but they always have a lot of heart. It’s kids that are raised here and have been here their whole life.”
Simpkins, who has multiple Division I offers, is one of those kids raised around the Tornado Bowl.
He grew up wanting to play for Lee — despite admitting he and his friends were scared of him when they were little — and is trying to make the adjustment to Koons.
“(Lee’s) been like a father to a lot of people,” Simpkins said. “A lot of people look up to him. Some people find it heartbreaking that he left.
“I’m trying to tell myself, ‘OK, he’s like Coach Lee. Things won’t be too different.’”
Koons said he doesn’t plan on changing much, except terminology and things of that sort. It’s likely Lee will even be around offering guidance on the field throughout the week.
It’s a guarantee Lee will be in the stands at the game. He even said he’ll be the first one on the field celebrating if Clinton wins another championship.
For that, Koons said he is grateful to have Lee around as he works to maintain the level of play Clinton is accustomed to.
“In ‘Star Wars’ when Obi Wan Kenobi got killed, he became stronger than ever,” Koons said. “I feel like that’s my Obi Wan Kenobi now and I can ask him anything. He’s the guy that’s behind everything, he created everything, he’s the strength and he’s still there. He wants Luke Skywalker to be successful, man.”