High school football coaches are always quick to credit their players for success on the field, and rightfully so.
But regardless of the outcome in the Class 5A and 6A state championship games this weekend at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, two coaches deserve a great deal of credit for getting their teams this far.
Carl Albert's Gary Rose and Norman North's Wade Standley have orchestrated completely different, but equally impressive turnaround jobs to have their teams playing for state titles this weekend.
Standley took over a Timberwolves squad that was 2-8 the year before he arrived, and barely surpassed .500 in his first season. Now, they're 12-1, getting ready to take on Jenks, one of the state's football kingpins, for the Class 6A title at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Rose has eight state championships to his name, tied for second-most in state history, but 2012 might go down as the best coaching job of his illustrious career.
It might seem outlandish, but it very well might be true. The Titans were 1-5 in mid-October. And at 7:30 Saturday night, they'll face Tulsa East Central for the 5A gold ball.
“It's one of the most fulfilling and gratifying feelings to see these kids respond like this when it was really bleak,” Rose said after last week's 56-33 semifinal win over McGuinness. “If you had seen me after the Guthrie game (on Oct. 5) — we could've won and we should've won that game, and we didn't get it done. And I take the blame. I wasn't getting something done, and we had to take care of it.”
One key piece to the turnaround was Rose's attitude. His approach with his team was no different at 1-5 than it was when the team was succeeding.
“Every day, he was coming in, letting us know that we were gonna keep working, and we were gonna be able to do it,” lineman Kyler Walker said. “He's always the same, always telling us how much he loves us, and if we keep working, we can achieve our goals.”
Norman North looked like little more than a pretty good 6A football team after a tough loss to Westmoore in Week 3 of the regular season — but “pretty good” doesn't get you to the state finals at this level.
Over the last two months, the Timberwolves have constantly gained momentum, knocking off two Tulsa-area powers in the last two weeks to get to the finals.
Friday's title game is the tangible result of a mindset Standley began to instill the day he arrived in the spring of 2011.
“The first day he was here ... I came over after and introduced myself,” senior Jaxon Uhles said. “He told me how it was going to be and I was ready to go right then. All the guys bought in from the first day he was here and ever since then, our motto has been ‘All In.'
“We believe that and we do everything all in, not just football but in the classroom. He's brought that attitude to us, not just in football but in life.”
Having coached under Bill Blankenship at Tulsa Union, Standley knows what a winning program looks like, and he'll try to take another giant step with the Timberwolves on Friday in a process that's been nearly two years in the making.
“It started from Day 1,” Standley said. “We had a special group of young men that were very focused, very mature and very determined. From Day 1, they focused on getting better that first year and it's continued to this point.”