By BEN JOHNSON
Johnny Dyson was a part of Tahlequah basketball teams that made winning a regularity in the early 1990s. Now his No. 1 priority is for the girls basketball program to follow that same model.
On Thursday morning, Dyson was introduced as the Tahlequah girls basketball head coach, replacing Chad Walker, who left after four years at the helm.
“In the 90s, when I played, we expected good seasons,” Dyson said. “Twenty-win seasons weren’t out of the ordinary. It wasn’t a set goal every season. It was almost expected.
“That’s the kind of thinking, the kind of mentality that I want the girls program to have.”
Dyson wasn’t the only varsity basketball hire by Tahlequah on Thursday, though.
Pat Dotson was elevated from assistant coach to head coach of the boys basketball team.
“They bring a lot to the table,” said Brad Gilbert, Tahlequah’s athletic director. “They’re high-character men and they know a lot about basketball.”
Dyson’s new digs
For Dyson, it was a matter of waiting his turn before garnering his next head-coaching assignment. Dyson — who previously coached the Braggs girls — dabbled in junior high and middle school coaching the last several years before sitting along side Walker during varsity games in 2012-2013.
“I’ve been on both sides of the (boys and girls) program here,” Dyson said. “I was a seventh- and eighth-grade boys coach and a high school assistant coach. I helped out last year as the freshman coach while also being an (varsity) assistant. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, so I know the lay of the land around here.”
Dyson, 36, will take over a Lady Tigers club that went 17-10 while making a state-tournament appearance. Dyson — a 1994 graduate of Tahlequah High School — will also have back a core group from last year’s club, including Randee O’Donnell, Marisa Girdner and Whitney Wright.
“We’ve got some great senior leaders coming back,” Dyson said of the trio. “They’ll be the ones to rely on for leadership, and I’m expecting good things this year.”
The trip to the state tournament was Tahlequah’s first since 2011. Along the way, the Lady Tigers picked up regional and area championships.
So, does that create added pressure for Dyson in his first season?
“No, not at all,” he said. “I’m just going to go in there and do the best that I can. Plus, I know I have the full backing of Brad Gilbert, Jeff Thorne (Tahlequah High School principal) and Lisa Presley (Tahlequah Public Schools superintendent).”
New spot for Pat
When Hulbert wrapped up its 2011-2012 season, Dotson — at the end of his second season in charge of Hulbert’s boys basketball team — got a call from then-Tahlequah coach MIke Leafgreen.
“Mike was like, ‘I need some help,’” Dotson recalled. With that said, Dotson left Hulbert and became an assistant coach on Leafgreen’s staff in 2012-2013.
Now, Dotson is the guy calling the shots for the boys basketball program. Leafgreen was let go around spring break because of “academic reasons.”
“Mike and I are great friends and we’ve been friends for a long time,” Dotson said. “We both know this is the job we chose, so we know there are odd wrinkles in it from time to time.”
Dotson, 60, will command at Tigers team that posted a 8-16 mark this past season. Tahlequah also failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs, dating back to 2010.
Yet, the only player Tahlequah won’t have back next season is point guard Lain Wright.
“I’m fired up,” Dotson said. “Obviously, real excited about being here.”
Identifying his first order of duty, Dotson said he wants to implement a program that has roots all the way down into the elementary-aged players.
“What I’m super interested in is player development,” Dotson said. “We had 23 guys come in yesterday, and we still had four guys that weren’t able to be there. So we’re looking at 27 guys in the varsity program.
“...My focus needs to be program development. We don’t do much with fifth and sixth graders. We have to go down low and start early. There has to structured and headed in the right direction.”
Tahlequah’s search for two new head basketball coaches didn’t span the country. It barely made it out of county lines.
That’s because both Dyson and Dotson were a few feet away from their predecessors only five months ago.
“In our circumstances,” Presley said, “we got the two best applicants.”
Thorne, Gilbert and Presley were all asked how many applications were turned in for both jobs. Thorne said he was unsure of the actual number, deferring any athletic applications to Gilbert.
“I know we didn’t have a huge number of applicants,” Thorne said. “...I really depend on the athletic director to do this. I have 1,200 kids and 80 teachers (at the high school), so I have a lot to say grace over.”
Presley told the Daily Press that there were “about” 10 applicants for both jobs combined. Gilbert did not offer up a specific number.
“I really don’t want to get into that,” he said. “I do know many applicants [there were], and we did call around and talked to others. We didn’t beg anybody; we tasted to see who was interested.”
Presley’s hopes are that both Dyson and Dotson are in charge of their teams for a long period of time.
“We want to build some longevity,” Presley said. “We want quality individuals coaching out students, and we want to build character for our kids. And if we can build those characteristics in our students, we’re going to be very happy. And then we want success, obviously.”