Tommy Varner is an inspiration to his team

OSD coach changed the culture and beat the odds
By Robert Przybylo, Staff Writer, bprzybylo@opubco.com Modified: December 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm •  Published: December 25, 2010

— Oklahoma School for the Deaf coach Tommy Varner never envisioned himself coaching football.

In fact, he never ever saw himself actually being a coach. And if somehow he did turn to a life in that profession, it was most certainly going to be in baseball, the sport Varner had the most talent in when he was in school.

All these years later, Varner is not only the coach of the Indians, but he has taken a school known for basketball and made it into a formidable football program.

That's a far cry from where the team was. OSD was winless three seasons ago, but this year reached the eight-man national championship game for deaf schools. OSD lost 46-42 at Wisconsin.

“Coach told me after my freshman season ‘Don't worry,'” senior wide receiver Austin McKenzie said. “He said it would change, and it did. It's a great way to leave this program.”

The honors were many for OSD following this season. The Indians had three players on the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association's All-American first team (Austin McKenzie, Colin Larkins, Nathan Coon). Three more on the second team (Jacob Walden, Jakob Walser, Marshall Griffith) and two on the honorable mention (Cody Bullard, Colt Jenkins).

As for Varner, he was named the NDIAA Coach of the Year. OSD scored at least 42 points in eight of its nine games in earning a 6-3 record.

“I've only known him for four years, but he's been like a second father to me and the team,” McKenzie said.

And an inspiration.

Varner was born with spinal meningitis that left him deaf when he was four months old. Varner has no hearing in his right ear and only 20 percent in his left.

Baseball was his sport of choice. He played at Stillwater High and played two seasons at East Central University.

Football? That was never in the equation. Varner began playing in fifth grade but was done with the sport after his freshman year in high school.

He graduated from USAO in Chickasha with a degree in deaf education. That was always the goal — to be a teacher.

He was an assistant coach for the Arkansas School for the Deaf football team for three years before coming to OSD. After one year as an assistant, Varner has been the face of the program since 1999.

“That's just the way it worked out,” Varner said. “Those kids needed someone to coach them, and I wasn't about to deny those kids.”

OSD has become the Varner family's home away from home. His wife, KaAnn, is the principal, and the family is involved in just about every way possible.

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