TUTTLE — Jason White remembers the phone calls he got from Tuttle football coach Philip Koons, asking him to come work out with the Tigers during the offseason.
White wasn’t even in high school yet.
“I was only in eighth grade, so I was kind of hesitant to go,” White said. “But he kept pushing me, and that’s what got it all started for me. He taught me how to work hard. It was his constant support and encouragement to get better and be great at whatever you were doing at the time.”
Other former players use words like “hard-nosed,” and “old-school,” to describe Koons, who resigned Monday after 21 seasons at Tuttle.
He steps down with a record of 205-50 and two state championships, having sent several players to the college level, including White, who won the Heisman Trophy as Oklahoma’s quarterback in 2003. White said he was shocked to learn the news Monday.
“He dedicated everything he had to Tuttle football,” White said. “I know for a fact there were other job opportunities he turned down because of his loyalty to Tuttle football. It won’t be the same without him there.”
Koons’ tough, in-your-face coaching style had caused some controversy at times, and speculation swirled recently that another such controversy was brewing.
However, no one directly involved with the situation would say whether those coaching tactics ultimately led to his resignation.
“I can confirm that we have received coach Koons’ letter of resignation,” Tuttle superintendent Bobby Waitman said. “He has tendered that letter, but that’s all I can share.”
Koons did not return calls to The Oklahoman.
While his intense attitude and hardcore motivational methods brought many detractors, several former players on Tuesday voiced support for their coach.
“I know some of the controversies he’s gone through, and I think now, he’s more misunderstood, because parents think things have to be politically correct,” said Josh Boren, who played for Koons in the late 1990s. “I think it’s a really big loss for Tuttle and I’m really sad about it.
“The successes I’ve had in my life professionally, I would directly attribute to the work ethic he instilled in me, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.”
Koons coached Tuttle to state titles in 2001 and 2005, the latter coming in Cooper Bassett’s sophomore season.
“You put on the old football movies and coach Koons fits the mold of the mean ol’ football coach,” said Bassett, who played at OSU and is now on the coaching staff at Missouri. “He would dog-cuss us and put the fear of God in us when we were messing up in practice. He demanded a lot of us, and his style was a little harsh, but it was because he cared so much.
“After my last game when we lost in the semifinals, he hugged me, and he had tears in his eyes, because he cared about us and he loved us. If you worked hard for him, he loved you. Outside of my family, there’s no other man that I respect as much as coach Koons.”
Bassett said he and Josh Henson, Missouri’s offensive coordinator and a Tuttle alum, often share memories of their times playing for Koons.
Love him or hate him, Koons’ departure will have an impact on Tuttle football.
“I knew coach Koons couldn’t coach at Tuttle forever, but when I heard the news, it kind of made me sick to my stomach,” Bassett said. “I love Tuttle and I’ll always be proud of where I came from. But Tuttle football won’t ever be the same for me.
“Coach Koons was Tuttle football. When you brought up Tuttle and you brought up winning, it was because of coach Koons and the program he built. I love Tuttle football and I love coach Koons, but it makes me sad that the two had to be separated.”