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September 21, 2006
Kevin Wright, watching his team play Hoover (Ala.), goes after his first victory as Union head coach when the Redskins host Enid on Friday.
KELLY KERR / Tulsa World
By JIMMIE TRAMEL Tulsa World Sports Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
Union football coach weighs in on transition, expectations
The football team at Union High School is 0-3. First-year head coach Kevin Wright is being jabbed by critics, never mind that the two-time defending state champion Redskins have played the No. 1 team in the nation and the top two teams in the Tulsa World's Class 6A rankings.
Say what you want about Wright. He's equipped to handle it because he has endured worse.
Wright will tell you real adversity isn't 0-3. Real adversity is getting a phone call from someone who tells you that your mother committed suicide.
Wright got the call in 2003, when he was in the midst of an absurdly successful tour of duty (his six-year record was 71-12) at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. His mother, Jayne, was a missionary who had devoted much of her life to helping others. He believes his mom concealed depression by helping others.
In the aftermath, Wright turned introspective. What do you do when football doesn't seem important anymore?
Wright thought about quitting. He stepped aside for a couple of weeks, then returned to lead Warren Central to a state title.
"That year, the first time I can remember even smiling or feeling happy a little bit was at halftime of the state championship game when we were ahead 50-0," he said.
Wright said his mother's death "helps me put things in perspective." He honors his mother's memory by wearing turn-back-the-clock apparel -- a sweater vest, collared shirt and tie -- at every game.
"I have had some coaches from around here that kind of scoffed a little bit and even had a coach ask me directly, 'Hey, why are you wearing that? It's too hot.' I told him it's not about that."
It's about how every day, and every Friday night, is a blessing.
Good, bad and ugly
Jenks and Union have won the last 10 Class 6A state titles. Fans at both schools demand trophies. Things are in place which simultaneously make Jenks and Union good coaching jobs and difficult coaching jobs.
"There are a lot of expectations to win, and not just win, but win everything," Jenks coach Allan Trimble said.
Former Union coach Bill Blankenship once said if you are Union's coach, you can count your true friends on one hand.
"What I'm trying to say is it is a hard job and it is very difficult to let people into your world because most everybody has an agenda," Blankenship said.
When Blankenship stepped down, it wasn't because he was bitter. He was burnt out.
It took Blankenship seven tries before he beat Jenks. Once, a jester put a "for sale" sign in the coach's yard. Wright won't comment on whether he has gotten the same treatment.
"I will say that things like that happen," he said.
"There are people out there that have nothing better to do than to try to create problems for whoever," Wright said.
"I know Coach Trimble has dealt with the same stuff. I have heard of horror stories he has gone through and here is a man that has won multiple state championships and is a great coach."
Wright is thankful to have the Union job and he said he knew what he was getting into. He said expectations were just as big at Warren Central.
"We weren't even supposed to have a close game," he said.
Wright said he has received supportive letters and e-mails (including one from Blankenship this week). Wright also acknowledged that he has gotten messages of the other sort.
Wright left behind a great team at Warren Central, which is ranked nationally. Ideally, he would have liked to have stayed for one more season, but you can never pick when career opportunities arise.
Has there ever been a day when he wished he had stayed in Indianapolis? Wright said you wouldn't be human if you didn't second-guess yourself.
But Wright then tossed out a story about a person he considers to be a great coach. Wright said Lou Holtz didn't stick around long as an NFL coach because Holtz has said he wasn't totally committed to the job.
"You've got to understand that if you are going to be successful in your current job, you have got to have total commitment," Wright said. "Now you can't control your thought process, but you sure can control what you dwell on."
State of the Union
Replacing Blankenship was almost a no-win situation because there was nowhere to go but down.
Wright said he knew this season was going to be tough not only because of a coaching transition, but because 17 players are first-year starters. Two of the team's best defensive players are sidelined with injuries.
Wright said his goals "haven't changed one bit." He still expects to contend for a championship. And why not? Union outgained Jenks and Muskogee and had a late touchdown negated by penalty in both games.
Wright tries to spin negatives into positives. There is even a positive in an 0-3 start.
"The good thing I think now is you don't take anything for granted, which when you have won so long, you tend to take things for granted," he said.
Any Union coach would have been criticized for starting 0-3. Perhaps Wright is less likely to get the benefit of the doubt because he has no local ties and because he ushered in schematic and cosmetic changes.
Wright has no doubt that folks are passionate about football in Oklahoma. One of the reasons he moved here is because of that passion. A friend told him that if he wanted to coach in the hub of high school football, he needed to get a job in Texas or Oklahoma.
Wright said he is getting criticized back in Indiana, too. He said the sentiment there is why would he go to Oklahoma?
"I come down here and I get criticized on the other end now. 'Why in the world did Union ever hire this guy? He doesn't have a clue.' But it is what it is, and I said that. I told (my wife) that it's kind of funny. I knew a whole heck of a lot more last year about being a coach than I seem to know this year in everybody's eyes. But that's just a season and that will pass, and we will keep getting better and I'm excited."
Published Only On Tulsa World's Web Site
Following is a transcript of a question-and-answer session with first-year Union High School football coach Kevin Wright.
Tulsa World: Though you are 0-3, I wouldn't think your goals have changed for this season?
Wright: Our goals haven't changed one bit. As a matter of fact, we talked the other day and everything is still intact. I told our staff Sunday when we met. I said I am going to tell the team the same thing being 0-3 as I would if we were 3-0. The real season starts now, when you get into district play, because when you are trying to position yourself to win a state championship, I think it is really important to win your district to get the two home (playoff) games, to have homefield advantage, to get yourself seeded as high as possible. In the state of Oklahoma, you have only got a four-game playoff. Where I came from in Indiana, there were six games. There was just a lot more variables that could interfere. But with a four-game playoff and if you are guaranteed two games at home, you have got to like your chances at least. Really, from a team standpoint, the nondistrict games, we knew going in it was going to be tough. That's just part of it. It was going to be tough not only because of the transition and the coaching change, but because we had 17 guys starting their first game. I think that, for example, our quarterback Brandon Rogers has done a tremendous job. He was very heralded before I got here. But I was talking to his dad the other night. He had never even got a snap with the first unit last year as a sophomore the whole season or played meaningful minutes. Then you are playing your first game, when you are playing on national TV and you are playing the No. 1 team in the nation. Really, I thought we played well early. We gave up a couple of big plays and then turned the ball over. But I was pleased with our progress. I have been pleased with our progress basically on a weekly basis and where we have come from. And from an adversity standpoint, we are not only overcoming losses, but overcoming injuries. We lost two kids early. Dylan Troutman, who was the second-leading tackler on the team last year, we lost him in a preseason scrimmage with a broken rib and a lacerated spring. P.J. Yarbrough, our defensive lineman, the same thing. He broke his ankle early on. So we have kind of had to battle some different things. But our thought process was, I think, like any coach at any level when you are talking about nondistrict games or games that don't impact the playoffs. You want to take as much from it as you can, find out where you are at and stay as healthy as you can in preparation. So, all of our goals are still intact. We said before the season that (this) Friday night is going to be the biggest game of the year to start with. The other games were big, especially on paper and for fan interest, but if we are 3-0, we have still got to play Enid, which they have had a lot of success against in the past. But the reality is that you fight different battles when you are 3-0 than when you are 0-3. The good thing I think now is you don't take anything for granted, which when you have won so long, you tend to take things for granted.
Tulsa World: Then is the goal to still contend for a state championship?
Wright: Most definitely. If Muskogee and Jenks are No. 1 and No. 2, then I think we are right there. It's a situation where physically I think we can compete. I think we showed that. I have never been in a situation -- and I don't think probably many coaches have been in a situation -- where back-to-back in two big games you have touchdowns called back, one that probably would have won the game and the other which would have tied it and given us a huge momentum swing. I think with football, it's cyclical. That's what I keep telling our coaches and our kids. At some point, if you keep working hard, the ball bounces your way. The last couple of weeks it hasn't, but you know what? The good thing for us -- and I always try to put a positive spin on it -- is that it still doesn't affect our goals.
Tulsa World: It's not stretching the truth to say you could have won either one of your last two games. You didn't, but you could have, right?
Wright: I don't think it is (stretching it). If you look at the statistics and don't look at the score, you think you would have won the game because we had more first downs and more total yards. Against Jenks, we gave up one 80-yard run and I can't remember how many rushing yards they had. They had 160 or so. I would have to go back and look. But, really, take away the one long run and the defense gives up one touchdown. I don't know how many times that has happened. And then against Muskogee, who has arguably more weapons offensively than anybody in the state... we hold them to 180 yards total offense and 43 of those yards came on a fake punt. So, defensively, you still win championships on defense. Everybody likes to see high-scoring games, but you still win championships on defense. I am very excited with how they have played and they have played really against three different styles of offense, so that is great preparation in itself.
Tulsa World: Former Union coach Bill Blankenship said he sent you an e-mail the other day. Have you gotten supportive e-mails or "hang-in-there" letters from anyone else whose name might ring a bell with people?
Wright: I've gotten all kinds of positive letters. I don't know if I want to start naming names. I have gotten all kinds of positive letters and e-mails from people. Like any person in a high-profile coaching position, you get a few on the other side, too. But I think the majority of people have been very supportive and I would expect that. If we were just going out there and laying goose eggs, very easily with a young football team, they could have given up. But you didn't see that the last two games. You saw a team come from behind two games in a row against a very good opponent and put themselves in a position to win. Really, that's what we said early on is we had two defensive starters coming back and we felt like early on that we wanted to try and control the ball on offense and give ourselves a chance defensively. Don't give the opposing offenses many touches. Like with Hoover. Our goal was we only wanted to let them have the ball eight or nine times during the course of the game and that's exactly what we did. We still lose. We give up some big plays and we don't take advantage of our opportunities, but that's what we wanted to do is give ourself a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. We have done that. We just haven't won the game.
Tulsa World: You left a comfortable bed. The team you left is still ranked high nationally. You gave that up to come to a place that had a senior team last year and a heck of an opening schedule. Why would you leave a great situation to go to a school where you have to win a state championship or it looks like the program is going down?
Wright: That's the same way where I was. The expectations were just as high where I was at. I laugh. I get criticized. There was an article the other day that somebody sent me about my old team. They had beaten the No. 2 team in the state something like 76-6 or 76-7. I left an incredible group of athletes and just a great team. They were a team that we had built for. But I had been approached by other people about jobs and thought about it. I wanted to make sure that if we made a move, it was something that would be in the best interests of our family. I never really, to be honest, thought about Tulsa, Oklahoma, or never thought about moving to Oklahoma. One of my best friends is a guy named Shannon Ferbrauche, who is actually the vice president at Under Armour. He had spent some time in the Dallas area and actually had worked in the Tulsa area. He talked to me a lot and he is a Warren grad. He graduated from the school I was at and played with Jeff George really in the heyday of Warren in the mid-'80s and he had always talked to me about the last few years. He said, 'If you want to be in the hub of high school football, you have got to go to Texas or Oklahoma.' He said, 'I have been around and I don't know if my kids will ever get to play college football, but when I get (children to high school age),' -- and they live in Baltimore, he said, 'I would really like to have the opportunity to move those kids down to that part of the country because the experience those kids are going to get at the high school level equals or is better than what most college kids are ever going to get. It really got me thinking. And then when this job opened up, I had already turned down a couple of other opportunities to stay at Warren because it was very stable and my wife had a great job. Our families are there. But as I investigated it, and I knew about Union on the surface and I had actually met (Jenks) coach (Allan) Trimble at the national convention in January, again, way before this thing even happened. I had heard about the Union job at a clinic in Chicago from the offensive coordinator at Hoover. That's how things work. But as I researched and then when I came down and I met people and saw what it had to offer, I thought this is really what Shannon is talking about. This is something where the passion is incredible. Maybe some people would say it's out of whack a little bit. I was laughing with my wife last night. I said, 'Do you think people in the state of Oklahoma care about football when the front page article is the Pac-10 officials get suspended for a bad call?' I said, 'How many places would that be one of the lead stories?' But we went out to eat one night and OU was playing UAB and we were out some place and we were just kind of laughing again because every call and every play people were living and dying. But if you are a competitor and if you love high school football, then --if this was a year later, then I would have loved to have stayed where I was at, because I would love to have the opportunity to see that all the way through. But at the same time, whenever you leave a job, you can feel good if you leave it in a better state than what it was in before. And before I got to Warren six years ago, they had one winning season in four years. And we go 8-5 the first year and then I think over a period of six years we were like 71-12. We had built that, so it was a situation where I knew those kids were going to be successful, but it's always tough leaving coaches and family and people you love, but you can't pick and choose when your opportunities are going to come. I knew what I was getting into here. I think what people have to understand is, wherever you are at, if you are at a high-profile program, which Warren is one of the most high-profile programs in the country, there are high expectations everywhere. Then if you look at my background, and I tell people this and they laugh sometimes, but my dad is still coaching football (for) 41 years. He is in the hall of fame. He is going for his eighth state championship, which would tie the record. I coached for several years before we ever won a state championship and I coached some very good teams, but at Thanksgiving we have a huge (family meal). We have got 22 teachers on my dad's side of the family. And it's a big Thanksgiving dinner and I would say half the teachers coach and, if they don't, they think they should. But I always felt like a failure, really, no matter (what happened during the season). We went 12-1 one year and lost to the eventual state champs in overtime in the semifinals and I can just remember feeling like a failure because I'm not playing on Thanksgiving (weekend). In Indiana, the state championship game is on Saturday following Thanksgiving day. So in our family you still want to be playing when you are having Thanksgiving dinner. You would have just have come from practice to Thanksgiving dinner. We used to talk about that. We always would say remember November. When we were training in the offseason we would say remember November because November was when you still wanted to be playing and that's when everything meant something. But nobody can have any higher expectations than what I have of myself. And my expectation is that we win the state this year and that's what I told the kids this year. I said I have a one-year plan and the plan is to win state this year. It does no good for a coach to come in and tell his seniors he's got a two- or three-year plan, so, yes, the transition is still not easy, but we are still in a process where I think we are getting better and we are learning. We were laughing the other day in our staff meeting because when you get ready to game plan, you look and you try to see who your playmakers are and try to get the ball in their hands and three of our biggest playmakers right now are all three sophomores. So to be playing and going into games like we have gone into with young kids, you have got to make sure that you don't get frustrated with them and that you are realistic in what you are asking them to do. We have got to cut out mental mistakes and penalties and things of that nature, but just from a physical standpoint, in the spring, I knew that physically we needed a year in the weight room. That was probably the biggest thing to me is coming from where I was coming from to here, our weight program has to get better. They have had a weight program, but just overall team strength, to compete, it has to be better, especially when you don't have just tremendous athletes across the board. Union has made a living -- they have had some good athletes, but they have been living on blue-collar kids, I think, as a whole, or at least that's what they tell you. Now people outside of Union, they might disagree with you.
Tulsa World: Union isn't sending 10 kids to major colleges every year.
Wright: No, they are not. They are blue-collar kids that have been in the program. When you have got that type of system, your weight program and your academic program, those two things are really what you build on. I think the benefits of those two programs, which we were able to put in with a lot of support from our administration, those things we are going to reap benefits from for years to come.
Tulsa World: Knowing what you know now, has there ever been a day when you wished you had stayed in Indianapolis?
Wright: I think you wouldn't be human if you didn't have days where you second-guess yourself. I like to read and I like to read about leaders. Lou Holtz, I think, is one of the all-time great motivators and one of the great coaches in my opinion. One of the things that he says is he was with the New York Jets for a short period of time, which some people forget and some people remember. But he said one of the biggest mistakes he made was when he went into that situation, he wasn't totally committed to it. In the back of his mind, he wasn't fully committed to it and as a result, I think he ended up quitting or resigning and going back (to college). When thoughts like that come to your mind, you've got to understand that if you are going to be successful in your current job, you have got to have total commitment. Now you can't control your thought process, but you sure can control what you dwell on. I think in the end... We went to Guts Church the other day and (pastor) Bill Scheer asked me this the other day. We were having a candid conversation and he said, 'Hey, are you like Cortez, have you burned all your ships?' And I said, 'Well, I'm working on it.' I've still got a house to sell in Indianapolis. I think that would help me burn my ships a little bit more. But his point was the same thing, that even through adversity, that you keep focusing on why you came here in the first place and looking ahead. That's what I try to do and my wife is the same way. She is the ultimate coach's wife. She is a very valuable educator. She probably gave up as much as I did to come and so I guess sometimes that is something that, when I have thoughts like that, it probably dwells more around here and my two young kids in that did I do them a disservice because of everything (they deal with), because sometimes wives have to go through it worse than husbands ever do because people will say things to your wife that they won't say to you. I guess sometimes that's probably more of a concern of mine than anything else that I make sure that I put them in a good situation, because that was really the reason we came in the first place. Union, I think, has a great school system. South Tulsa, I think, is a great place to live. You don't talk to many people who will say Tulsa is a bad place to live. I haven't. Maybe when I was trying to make a decision, nobody wanted to tell me the truth. But I didn't talk to one person, and even people who weren't from here or who had moved here or lived here for a time, (that had bad things to say). But that's part of life. You can't look back. You've always got to look forward.
Tulsa World: Some people think adversity is 0-3 or fourth-and-5. That's not real adversity. What's the biggest adversity you've gone through?
Wright: You are exactly right. The biggest adversity, and it was almost three years ago to the day of the Jenks game. My team was 3-0. We had just beaten the Ohio State champs, Cincinnati Elder. They had won it the year before and they won it that year. We had beaten Ben Davis, who was the defending state champion in Indiana who we had not beaten in years. We were ranked No. 2 nationally. And, on a Saturday, after the Ben Davis win, I got a phone call that my mother had committed suicide. And this was three years ago. Just to kind of put this in perspective, my mother was a missionary. She spent her life helping other people, primarily at home, but she also made trips to Central America. She had dealt with some things, but we had no idea because she was always the person in the community who was always out helping other people. She was a very strong woman of faith. And I think that people don't understand mental disease. Depression is a mental disease and if you are good enough at hiding things, which hindsight is always 20-20, what she did to hide it or what was going on inside of her was she was always helping other people. My life was put on hold three years ago in the middle of the season when I really should have been at the height of my coaching career at that point. To have to go through that, and, again, my dad is a head coach. I have a younger brother is a head coach. I have a sister who is a teacher who was heavily involved in the community at that time. She is actually the only female youth football -- she was the head of the youth football league in my hometown. I have four other -- there are five of us, five siblings. That's adversity. OK, now what do you do when football doesn't seem important and really I thought about quitting at that point and walking away. You always preach things and we had always preached faith, family, football. You hear that and it's not something I came up with, obviously. But when you have got times of true adversity, you find out what your faith is all about and that's how you get through it. Your family, when you are a coach, you find out that your family is made of more people than you ever imagined. The outpouring that we had, not just from my immediately family, but from the coaches and players that were on our team to the kids I had in the past, I don't think I have ever seen anything more touching than -- you know, the town I grew up in had 2,500 people. At my mother's showing, they had to have it at the high school gymnasium, they had over 4,000 people show up at the showing. At the funeral, you had three different high school football teams. My team, my brother's team and my father's team were all there. It touched me so much as each of our kids came through the line and said to me, 'Coach, I feel for you and I lost my mom or, coach, I lost this person.' Really, that's adversity. And that really kept me going and kept me in coaching that year. That was adversity. Now I had to take a couple of weeks away. I took two weeks away. I looked at Tony Dungy last year who went through a similar situation and he's doing it on a national level and all eyes are on him. And I think this is probably the first interview that I have even stated what happened to her. The press in Indianapolis really did a good job of just saying she passed. But I think the reality is that it's not something I am ashamed of. I think mental disease is something that is real. But it is something that now it helps me put things in perspective. As much as people would like to think football is life and death and as much as it is a big part of our lives, and my wife would question it as sometimes being the major part of our focus. When your daughter, she lives and hinges on the Union Redskins. She was really concerned about going from being a Warrior -- we were the Warriors -- to being a Redskin. But the reality is that's adversity. We lost a couple of games that year that we shouldn't have ever lost, but we were so out of whack as a team with everything we had to deal with, but we were able to regroup in the playoffs. That year, the first time I can remember even smiling or feeling happy a little bit was at halftime of the state championship game when we were ahead 50-0. What had happened was it was a culmination. We had gone through adversity, major adversity, and from the personal side, we had some other things that happened within the team to losing some games during the season that we probably shouldn't have lost, but we built on that. You could just see the team pull together for a common cause. I think that happens sometime in sports. Maybe that's the most rewarding thing that ever happened to me was seeing that group pull together. And now I can flip on college football on Saturdays and I can see that I have a kid starting at Michigan, a kid starting at IU, a kid starting at Western Michigan, a kid starting at Toledo. You can see kids and you kind of get an appreciation for that. To me, that's real adversity and so we try and preach to our kids, 'Stay together and stay positive.' I try to preach to our coaches that when things are going bad, do everything you know to do on a daily basis. Don't shortchange your players. Give them everything you have got. Give them a piece of you. Make it personal. People won't follow you unless they know you have a personal stake in them as individuals. If you do that, then at night, you can put your head on a pillow at night and go to sleep and feel good about it. Even though nobody wants to lose, and I have spent a lot of restless nights, I know that what we are doing is good for kids and academically we are doing some great things. My wife is heavily involved in the academic program that we put in. We have already had a couple of schools call us about coming in and meeting with her about our COOL program, which is our Competitive Outlook On Learning program, which we do for our kids. We go twice a week before we start practice. We take an hour twice a week and our kids have study table. Our upperclassmen are required, if they are failing or below a 2.0, to take it. If they want to use it, they can still use it. All freshmen are required to go two times a week, so we are doing some good things off the field as well. We are taking some kids to an elementary school to read Thursday night. That was amazing. I thought I might get five or six volunteers. I got like 30. We have got good kids and we have got coaches of characters and I don't think it's if we are going to win, it's when we are going to win.
Tulsa World: I was told that you honor your mother's memory by what you wear during a game. True?
Wright: That is true. In that year we are talking about, it got to a point where I had to go to so many -- for a while there I was going to so many funerals and wakes and had so many things I had to go where I had to dress up. I just basically, I thought about it and I told our kids that I am never going to take a day for granted from here on out. Because you can take people for granted and you can take what you have for granted and I said I am not going to take a day for granted from here on out. I said I am not going to take a day for granted from here on out. I said I am going to enjoy every day I have with the people I love and am going to do every day what I love. Friday nights, to me, that is what makes football special. You are only guaranteed 10 opportunities. You work all year long and you are only guaranteed 10 opportunities. I like to dress up. It is special. It's one of those things. It's not like basketball or baseball, where you have multiple opportunities (to play) and when you throw in AAU and summer ball and all that, you have even got more than what you normally have. But, yes, that is something I started doing after she passed away. I am not trying to prove a point and I know that I have had some coaches from around here that kind of scoffed a little bit and even had a coach ask me directly, he said, 'Hey, why are you wearing that? It's too hot.' I told him it's not about that. But that's just something that I learned and I don't take anything for granted. Every day is a blessing from God and every opportunity I have to coach on Friday night is something that is special to me and I look at it as a great opportunity. That's the mindset that I have to have and that's how I go into each game, so that's part of it.
Tulsa World: Do you wear it specifically because your mother liked that look for you or because of something else?
Wright: No, that's the easiest thing. Back in the day, if you go back and look, Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes and those guys, traditionally that's what coaches did. They wore shirts and ties. I like the sweater vest. That's something that coaches traditionally, that's what they did. When I first started out teaching and coaching, in my early years, I don't do this anymore, but I read Woody Hayes' book and Woody Hayes talked about how he had a closet full of white shirts and ties and that's all Woody Hayes every wore. So, for years when I first started teaching, I made it a point to always wear a shirt and tie to school and I also had my assistant coaches were shirts and ties because I think that sends the right message and it makes a good impression on people. We even talked last Friday or last Thursday, we have a leadership council. I met with our kids and I said, 'What do you want to do? On Fridays, we are going to make it special. We are going to do something special for you. You can wear your jerseys as a team, which a lot of people do, or you can dress up and wear shirts and ties.' The majority of them voted to wear shirts and ties. That's something that we do as a team. It's a new tradition that we started last week. It's funny because we have this leadership council to get input from the kids and I always feel like it's good to get that. I had a mom e-mail me and just say, 'Hey, don't let them make that decision every week. I am so impressed with that and I am afraid they will make the wrong decision. That is the right thing to do.' I e-mailed her and said, 'Just so you know, it wasn't even a close vote. I think it was like 13-3 that they voted in favor of doing that. But that's just part of it. But I just don't take things for granted. I don't take days for granted. I am excited to be at practice every day. I think if you don't have enthusiasm -- enthusiasm is contagious and if the guy with the tie doesn't have enthusiasm, no matter what the situation is, you are not going to be successful. It makes time pass faster. Now, it doesn't mean we are not intense when we coach, because we are. I love to watch Pete Carroll because Pete Carroll always seems like he doesn't have a care in the world, which I guess when you are at USC and you have won that many games (it's easy to do). I want to go back and see when he was in the NFL if he was still that carefree. But the bottom line is when you read books and hear people talk about Pete Carroll, they talk about his enthusiasm for the game and how that rubs off on his players and those types of things. I am always looking for things outside the box that will create excitement for our kids. We play music before practice at times on the field. We try to do different things to create excitement and enthusiasm and I think all those things are important over the long haul -- and maybe even more important when you are going through adversity and you have hard times because kids are human. Just like everybody else, when things aren't going right, the first thing human nature is, is to point the finger and find what's wrong with somebody else. It's the coach's fault or we should be doing this, that or the other. Those things, they hear it all. That's the bad thing, I think, that if kids are hearing negatives and hearing this or that. We are trying to get them to pull together. And they have. They have done a tremendous job. It has been a great group to coach. But that's the thing that concerns me a little bit is when they leave the building, it's what they have to deal with when they are outside. And we are not talking about adults. We are talking about 17- or 18-year-olds, in some cases with my sophomores, 15- or 16-year old kids. But I think they have handled themselves very well. I think their attitude has been great. We had a big win against Muskogee in a JV game on Monday night and it was funny because one of the coaches called me and they were celebrating on the way home and I said it's great to see that enthusiasm. And I think you will see that with our older kids. As soon as we can break through, you will see that because I think for so long, we talked about the guys who were new coming in, you talk about it and we almost went through, in the spring and summer, you are trying to get guys more excited about being there. I talk about embracing the opportunity. Every time you practice, embrace that opportunity. But yet our guys, our older guys especially, were just kind of on cruise control. I got the feeling that they just expected to roll out and win and that's not good. It's good to have high expectations of yourself, but the reality is you can't, when you play good teams -- and we have played some very good teams -- you can't just roll out because you are Union and win. Again, the majority of our kids did not play meaningful minutes last year. They just didn't. There is a sense of entitlement sometimes that goes along with winning, but there is no guarantee. And that's what sometimes you have to learn. So I think all these things are good. We are always trying to turn negatives into positives. I have a saying: Adversity equals opportunity. If you think about that whenever you go through adversity, there is always going to be some type of opportunity and that's something for our kids that I think we will always be able to look back on and say, 'Hey, remember when we didn't practice well and remember when we didn't embrace those opportunities?' The biggest impression is going to be made on your young kids. That's something that they are going to take with them. The seniors, this is it for them. They have got to have a sense of urgency. But the younger kids are the ones that are going to learn and that's going to be a reference point for years to come is, 'Hey, remember what happened when we started out in 2006.'
Tulsa World: Because of what you have been through, it's likely that you could catch all kinds of flak and it would not affect you. Would it just bounce off you?
Wright: I love to observe great leaders. What I have done at Warren, where I came from, we weren't even supposed to have a close game. Now think about that. That's a team that in 1999 they won three games. By the time I left, we lost one game last year to a team that in the playoffs we ended up beating 55-3. But we weren't even supposed to have a close game. So those are the expectations.
Tulsa World: So you weren't just playing the opponent. You were playing the standard.
Wright: We had set such a high standard and it's a little bit here the same way. I have said this to my wife many times because she will ask me. She will say, 'Are you OK?' And I will say I'm OK because, you know what? Think about in Oklahoma for example. As loved as Bob Stoops is in Oklahoma, I still listen to talk radio and listen to people second-guess him or listen to people talk about how he has great qualities, but then he has got this negative quality. That's part of it. With the Internet today, you can get on the Internet and post anonymously. There are so many opportunities for people to create negativity that you have to, as a person and as a coach and anytime you are in a high-profile coaching job, whether it be high school, college or the NFL, you have got to (take the approach of) if it bothers you, don't read it. If you think you are going to be affected by it, don't watch TV. Shelter yourself from as much of the negativity as you can, but, yes, you have got to get thick skin. Again, I get more concerned about my family than I do myself. But that's a quality that hopefully our team takes on. You have got to love each other. If you love each other, you are going to fight for each other. And if somebody is down, you are going to fight that much harder. That's kind of the way I am. You are still human. You still want to win. But the reality is you know that's part of the job. As a leader, whether it's high school or college or at a Fortune 500 company, the people underneath you are going to take their cue. And if you let things bother you, they are going to be the same way. I realize that.
Tulsa World: Bill Blankenship and Allan Trimble are guys who know that what makes this a good job also makes it a tough job. Blankenship said after he left that if you are the head football coach at Union High School, you can count the number of your real friends on one hand. At one point, someone put a 'for sale' sign in his yard. It is rumored that the same thing has happened to you already. Do you want to verify that?
Wright: I am not going to comment on any of that activity. I will say that things like that happen. Things like that happen... There are people out there. Like the officials in the OU-Oregon game for example. There are people that take things to an extreme. That official has got death threats and everything. There are people out there that have nothing better to do than to try to create problems for whoever. I know coach Trimble has dealt with the same stuff. I have heard of horror stories he has gone through and here is a man that has won multiple state championships and is a great coach. That is part of it. Everybody kind of takes their cue from the colleges. You have got guys that are making one or two million dollars a year, so maybe there is some justification for the heat that they take if they don't win. But, then again, the reality is we live in a here and now society. It's not like before. You can't come into a situation and say I've got a four-year plan. Where reality would say that really you need four years. You come in and you want to put your system in with freshmen all the way through, that would be realistic at one point. Today, in college and at Union and in places like that in high school, that's not what people expect. It doesn't matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter the schedule. It doesn't matter the talent level. That's just the expectations. But those things are part of it. If anything like that got to an extreme though, I would step back because I wouldn't put my family in harm's way, if it got to that extreme. But it has not gotten to that extreme.
Tulsa World: But you wouldn't want those kind of people to dictate your life to you, right?
Wright: That's why I don't ever comment on anything like that. I will comment to say that stuff like that happens. You can talk to coach (Blankenship) or coach Trimble. Coach (Blankenship) is probably better (able to talk about it) because he can do whatever he wants to now. He is out of the equation as far as having to deal with that. But you are not going to let people dictate things to you. That would be like somebody dictating what you do on offense or defense or what you do in your weight program. You have got to have enough faith in yourself and your assistants and in your ability and then also in reality. That's where I think faith comes in. People are passionate down here. They are passionate about religion and they are passionate about football. Sometimes those things get mixed. Sometimes what makes a job great also can be a negative at times. But, again, I told my wife the other day. There was a big article in the Indianapolis paper. It was an editorial that was written by an ex-coach there and basically he questions why in the world Kevin Wright would ever move to Oklahoma when he could have stayed at Warren Central and won the national championship. So the sentiment there is why would he leave to go to Oklahoma? Regardless that it is seen as a basketball state, we play pretty good football in that part. I come down here and I get criticized on the other end now. Why in the world did Union ever hire this guy? He doesn't have a clue. But it is what it is and I said that. I told (my wife) that it's kind of funny. I knew a whole heck of a lot more last year about being a coach than I seem to know this year in everybody's eyes. But that's just a season and that will pass and we will keep getting better and I'm excited.
Tulsa World: I'm sure you've seen the movie "Hoosiers" where Gene Hackman comes to town as the new basketball coach and is told that playing man-to-man defense is unacceptable. As a coach, do have to put your stamp on the program -- your offense, your defense, your staff, maybe the uniform colors change?
Wright: I think what you have got to do is you have to do what you know and what you believe. Yes, I have seen "Hoosiers" multiple times, obviously. I laugh because there is a school in there called Terhune which is a mile from my house, where I grew up. I knew some people in the movie. But the scene in the barber shop, where Gene Hackman goes in and gets hit by all sides, you can take something from that as a coach. Today, people aren't normally as direct as that because they have other outlets. But what we wanted to do really, like with the uniforms for example, I just believe that it's a game for the kids and about the kids. We had an opportunity with Nike to get some new uniforms, so we went back and looked and talked to kids -- what do you want and even from changing the helmet color. What do you want? They had input on it and we talked about it, plus it was a great opportunity. I think it would be foolish if you didn't jump on the opportunity when Nike or Under Armour or somebody comes in like that and gives you an opportunity from a new uniform standpoint.... My goal was never to come in and make a lot of changes. You want to do things that kids are comfortable with. When you get into schematics, when you get into offense and defense, though, really, the difference between making a coaching change in high school and making a change in college is, one, you don't recruit your players so you can't just bring your system wholesale because you don't get to recruit the players. And, two, you don't bring your whole staff. Our staff now, we've got a mixture of guys who have been here before, guys that are new and guys who have been here before and come back. You have kind of got to work to their expertise and sometimes that takes a while really to figure out what everybody is good at and get everybody on the same page. We didn't get our coaching staff really completed until really the first week of August and then, boom, at that point, you are in it. But I think that is just part of first-year growing pains as far as that goes. Our kids are getting more comfortable in everything that we do and it's just gaining confidence. And confidence, the only way you can get true confidence sometimes is by winning.
Tulsa World: Going back to your mother, if she was a missionary then it's safe to assume she spent a lot of her life helping others, correct?
Wright: I was so blown away at the wake, like I said. People stood in line for three or four hours to walk through the gym. But the number of people who told me how she affected their lives, how she helped them. To raise five kids and, when I say this it is funny because everybody assumes that my dad has influenced more more than anybody because he's a coach and I'm a coach, but really my mom has had more of an influence, just as much if not more of an influence, based on what I learned from her from a spiritual standpoint, from a work standpoint, from always serving. She served others her whole life. I was just amazed at the number of people that came up to me. It really does, it makes you realize how selfish you can be when you realize that there are people on this earth who do nothing but spend the majority of their time helping other people. That has had a huge impact on me and really on my faith and on my perspective and on life and some things. We prayed before we came. This was a huge decision for us. We both felt like at the time that this was what God was calling us to do. We didn't know. Everybody obstacle you could hit, we hit it. Early on, we couldn't get down here early because we both ended up getting sick and we were both hospitalized with the flu. It was just one thing after another. But sometimes it gets darkest right before the light, so all those experiences add up. But if you look at anybody who has had success, they have gone through adversity. I don't care who it is. Whether it is Abe Lincoln or like I said, Lou Holtz, or whoever. They have gone through adversity. I'm nobody any different than them.