Tahlequah Daily Press

High School Sports

May 21, 2014

Gary’s gone

Keys head football coach Gary Willis resigns after 16 seasons

bjohnson@tahlequahdailypress.com

Keys has been playing football under the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association umbrella for 12 seasons. The Cougars have known only one head coach during that time period.

That will change once the 2014 season starts.

After 16 years as Keys’ head football coach — 12 years as Keys’ coach while playing OSSAA football — Gary Willis announced he is resigning from his post.

“It’s the best decision for my family and me to make this decision now,” Willis said. “I’ve been there 16 years and my wife and I have made it our lives. We enjoyed the fire out of it. For the most part, it’s been great.”

Willis, 43, steps down after the Cougars went 1-9 during the 2013 season. It was only the second time that Willis missed the playoffs during his tenure.

“I wish Gary the best,” Keys athletic director Leon Ashlock said. “He is a great guy and he has been an outstanding leader and role model for our student athletes.”

Willis became Keys’ head football coach when the Cougars established themselves while playing ORES football. Then Keys made the switch and joined the OSSAA ranks in 2002.

Keys played in Class B for two seasons and then bumped up to Class A for four years. Keys has since passed through Class 2A and currently has become a playoff mainstay in 3A.

“We did some growing and it was pretty neat,” said Willis, who went 77-57 at Keys. “I’ve seen a whole lot of towns on Friday nights in Oklahoma. I had a lot of fun doing it.”

In 2011 and 2012, Keys finished second in its district and won a playoff game at home. The Cougars, though, lost in the second round in consecutive years to Cascia Hall and Metro Christian, respectively.

“He built our program from scratch and his success over the years speaks for itself,” Ashlock said. “He will be hard to replace and I will miss seeing him on the sidelines.”

Willis didn’t pinpoint a reason for his resignation. He instead said, “It’s time for me to step down. I loved my time (as Keys coach).”

Ashlock said the district would try to move quickly to hire only its second coach during the school’s OSSAA tenure.

“The job has been posted as of (Tuesday),” Ashlock said. “I am taking resumes and hope to find a new head coach as soon as possible.”

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