BETHANY — Attend any random Oklahoma high school football game on an autumn Friday night, and you're likely to see someone who was influenced by Mike Little. Maybe it's a coach who played or worked for Little at one of his four high school coaching stops. Maybe it's a player who attended the Southwest Air summer camp he created 25 years ago. At the very least, there's probably someone on the field who played or coached against one of Little's teams. The 68-year-old coaching legend died at his home Friday, and with the widespread impact Little had on Oklahoma high school football, it's impossible to gauge the depth of the void his death will leave. “It's unbelievable the coaching family that has come from Mike Little,” said Piedmont head coach Rob Green, who was hired as an assistant to Little at Putnam City West in 1979. “From guys who are coaching in junior high all the way up to Bill Young at Oklahoma State, it's just amazing the number of coaches he touched.” Little was found by his family at his home. A police report had not been filed Saturday, and Bethany police could not comment on the situation. Little’s funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at Westminister Presbyterian Church at 4400 N. Shartel Ave. in Oklahoma City. Little never got away from football. He spent last fall attending Yukon games to watch his grandsons, and was helping coach another grandson's little-league team. The branches of his coaching tree seem impossible to count, from guys like Young and Mike Jones, who ended up in the college ranks, to others like Jerry Griffin, Bob Wilson, Dennis Millican, Jon Lantz, Bill Dalke and dozens more. “He was my mentor,” said Wilson, who was promoted to Putnam City North's head coach when Little left for Yukon in 1992. “He's the main reason I do what I do. “It'd be hard to find a coach who hasn't been influenced by him. And it'd be even harder to find someone who had one bad thing to say about him.” Little compiled a record of 172-76-3 in a career that spanned parts of five decades, winning at every coaching stop during his 23-year career. He was the offensive coordinator at Putnam City West when the school first opened in 1968 and soon took over as head coach. Under Little, the Patriots played for three state championships, winning it all in 1981. He won another title with Putnam City North in 1991. He also revived struggling programs at Yukon and Bethany. “Yukon was 0-10 the year before he came and we went 10-2 his first year,” said Millwood principal Avery Gilliland, who was a junior at Yukon in Little's first season at the school in 1992. “He coached us differently. It wasn't about schemes. It was about repetition and doing things right.” That was the foundation of Little's philosophies. He didn't talk to his kids about the importance of winning, but instead, kept the focus on the simple parts of the game. And by doing the little things right, his teams found success. “He held you accountable and pushed you to find new details to learn,” said Scott Burger, who played for Little at PC West and coached under him at PC North, where he is still on staff. “It's amazing the number of programs that have some little piece of him, from the way the kids act to the plays that are being called.” Little's impact on people wasn't forced, nor was it based in arrogance. Little was a wise man who spoke with confidence and whose presence commanded attention. “He touched a lot of lives and had a positive impact on so many people, even he probably doesn't realize the number of people he touched and motivated and taught to do the right things,” said Millican, who played and coached under Little at PC West and is now the head coach at Grove. “Some people talk to hear themselves talk. Not him. He always had a certain charisma. When he spoke, people listened, and usually, anything he said had a reason behind it.” On the list of the state's greatest high school football coaches, Little's name isn't far from the top. “As far as I'm concerned,” said Burger, “he's No. 1 — by far.” For as good a football coach at Little was, he will be remembered as an even better person. “He taught his kids about life,” Wilson said. “There are life lessons I learned from him that I'm still applying and trying to teach to kids today. “He was a tremendous football mind, but even more, he was a tremendous father and person — the type of guy you want your kids to grow up to be like.”
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