Tahlequah Daily Press


June 12, 2014

Thornton named Keys' head football coach

Former Tahlequah head coach to take over Cougars program


Rarely do football coaches use the word "perfect." But that's precisely the word Tuffy Thornton used on Thursday.

"It's home," he said. "It's close to everything I grew up doing. It's kind of the perfect spot to do that."

Wait, where?

Keys High School.

That's where Thornton will take over as the head football coach. The school board approved the hire on Thursday night.

"I'm just excited to have the opportunity," said Thornton, a graduate of Tahlequah High School and Northeastern State University and former Tahlequah head coach.

Thornton, 46, will fill the void left by Gary Willis, who resigned in late May. Willis, who was Keys' head coach for 16 seasons, complied a record of 77-57 during his final 12 years, which were spent playing under the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association umbrella after Keys transitioned from Organization of Rural Elementary Schools (ORES) football.

Thornton returns to Oklahoma after being a part of the Greenwood (Ark.) football program. While in western Arkansas, Thornton was the head junior high school football coach for two seasons. He dropped those duties and helped coach Greenwood's offensive line, a unit that was key in Greenwood's ability to claim three straight state championships.

Prior to his stint in Arkansas, Thornton was the head coach at both Tahlequah and Sapulpa. While with the Tigers, Thornton went 8-32 in four seasons.

"I thought I was going to settle at Tahlequah but that didn't work out," said Thornton, who played on playoff teams at Tahlequah in 1983 and 1984. "That was a blessing because (Greenwood) went on a 50-game winning streak and won three championships in a row.

"I learned how it was done."

Now he gets to show off his new-found knowledge again — and he gets to do it back at home.

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