EDMOND — Derek Turner reaches into his black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon searching for what “dirty hat” he is going to wear at practice.
It's 3:30 p.m. and he has just pulled up to Oklahoma Christian School's daily practice in what he affectionately refers to as his office.
Turner has his normal office as the owner of Turner and Co., a real estate development company in Edmond.
But since 2003, he's also served as a volunteer coach for the Saints as part of an unusual situation few schools face.
Turner had little to no coaching experience then as an assistant, instead using the technique learned while playing at Baylor as his guide.
OCS' new coach in 2004, Tracy Holland, handed Turner a stack of about eight VHS tapes to study.
“That's how we learned the defense,” Turner said.
Turner was from the old-school schemes of football such as the Okie 5-2 and the wishbone offense.
He learned well, eventually becoming the head coach when Holland left for the University of Central Oklahoma.
The Saints won the Class 2A championship last season, but it was a long, winding journey for Turner and the program, which hosts Crooked Oak on Friday.
Advancing past the first round of the playoffs was once a big obstacle after the program moved to 11-man football in the early 2000s. Then Turner and his staff, comprised primarily of volunteers, turned what Holland started into a small-school power literally out of the back of their vehicles.
“It's a unique situation because of the size of the school,” Turner said. “I mean, people get the misconception sometimes that you're a private school, that you've got this massive amount of endless funds, but it doesn't really happen that way.”
MORE THAN BASKETBALL
Tracy Holland knew the challenge he was facing when he took over the program in 2004.
There was little belief in the Saints' football program, while basketball stars Blake and Taylor Griffin ruled campus and dominated on the court.
The Saints had some eight-man success, reaching the state championship five times and losing each time. But the transition to 11-man was difficult.
Things slowly started to change, though.
Holland put together a staff of volunteers — much like the current staff that features his sons Zach and Tucker — that included Derek Turner and current assistant Dan Fallon, and he began teaching them how to coach.
Coaches meetings. Film study.
“We were trying to bring a little more sophistication to what we were about,” Holland said.
The teaching worked, and it worked well. When Holland left, he wanted Turner to be the coach.
It was perhaps the best move the school has made to date.
Coaches and players attest that it's Turner's love for his players that has led the way down the winding path.
“It's a huge blessing to be able to have him as a coach, just how much time he spends into us and puts into our lives, just the impact he's had,” senior Palmer Rice said. “He's just a great example for us.”
In 2010, OCS made the playoffs with a 4-6 record only to travel to powerful Millwood. Turner believes that's when the turning point was, after the Saints got hammered but still managed to outplay the Falcons in the second half, showing some resiliency that carried over to 2011.
OCS went 9-3 in 2011 and then, of course, last season's title run happened, proving the Saints are more than just a basketball school.
“That's part of the culture change that these guys have all been a part of,” Holland said. “All of the athletes want to play basketball, supposedly. We thought we had some really good kids. Now to see it where it is today is really, really exciting.”
‘ADAPT AND OVERCOME'
Once he's decided on a hat, Derek Turner thinks how far the program has come since he started volunteering in 2003.
The campus has grown. Back then, there wasn't the press box or gymnasium neighboring the field. There wasn't even a trainer on staff.
This season's motto, “Adapt and overcome,” could have been applied then and every year since.
The Saints' staff is unique with its makeup of volunteers, but perhaps nothing compares to coaching without an office or daily coaches meetings.
“Yeah, it does present some challenges not being able to meet and not have the time together that a lot of staffs do,” assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Zach Holland said. “We kind of make it work. We've been together for so long, at least the core group has, that we know each other's strengths and weaknesses and we know what each other's roles are. It's just the stability.”
The Saints have one coach on staff who teaches at the school, Farrold Smith. The rest either have full-time jobs or attend college.
Turner employs a few of his coaches, including his son, Harrison, and Zach Holland.
Generally, the coaches are rarely together at the same time — except Friday nights and Sundays.
Sunday has become the day the coaches meet and prepare for the upcoming week. Sometimes the meeting happens, sometimes not.
“A lot of times we're going through text messages and the occasional lunch that we may have,” Turner said. “We do try to eat lunch together on Friday before a game, but that doesn't always work with everybody or their schedules because everybody has full-time jobs.
“I think the school has been unbelievably supportive of us.”
Turner never complains. In fact, the smile never leaves his face.
He's on the football field, a place he has loved since he played at Deer Creek High School and Baylor University, where he walked on and eventually earned a scholarship during the 1981-85 seasons.
Turner just wants to teach his players how to succeed in life, much like the football program is doing despite the odds.
“I think it's good for the kids because they grow up in this society where they feel like they've got to win everything and dominate everything,” he said. “You can't do that. That's not possible. Your failures are what develop your successes. If you never failed, you wouldn't have much success.
“But it's hard for them because we kind of live in this ESPN generation where everything is one glorious play. That's just not the way it is.
“If we can teach that lesson here, they can learn it for the classroom, going to college, they can learn it for their marriage and they can learn it with their kids.”
The players have already come along way with the coaches, overcoming many obstacles few programs face across the state.
“But it seems to work here,” Turner said. “It works.”