Joe Tillman takes reigns as Huskies football coach

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Altering the Huskies’ offensive or defensive schemes are not an immediate concern of the new head football coach for Pawhuska High School.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture,” said Joe Tillman, who was hired earlier this month. “It’s going to take some time.”

Tillman — Pawhuska’s fifth head coach in the past six years — expressed a steadfast commitment to putting the Huskies on a path toward future success. The longtime youth leagues’ coach said the local program may have strayed from that course in the last few years as a result of frequent coaching changes.

“I told this class of seniors we have coming in now that it’s not their fault they’ve had three different head coaches in their four years here,” said Tillman. “They’re a good bunch of guys, but all those changes have made it hard for them to focus.”

The new Huskie mentor said he hopes establishing continuity in the coaching will help to get the program on track. But he knows it will take more than that.

“We had several good spring practices, with 24 or 25 guys out,” Tillman said. “Then, about the sixth day out, we only had 13 show up.”

He said that while most of those absent had fairly valid excuses, it still indicated to him that there was a lack of overall commitment.

“If we can just get all 25 of them working together, every day, it will make a world of difference,” Tillman added.

Tillman has been a successful coach of Pawhuska Youth League teams for more than a dozen years. Last season, he served as a volunteer assistant for the Huskies, who finished 2-8.

“We’re trying to get everybody working hard in the weight room,” the coach said. “That’s where the real improvement has got to begin.”

Two new PHS assistant coaches are also being added. Ladd Drummond and John Long helped Tillman build his Junior Huskie squads. At a June 7 meeting of the Pawhuska Board of Education, Drummond offered to personally renovate local locker room/training facilities for the Huskie and Lady Huskie athletic programs.

“There are things being done that can help us build a winning program,” Tillman said. “But, we’ve first got to have commitment at all levels — from players as well as coaches, and even from the fans.”

At the present time, Tillman said he is not even contemplating district championships or trips to the state playoffs.

“What we need to focus on, initially, is our season opener,” Tillman said. “For now, we don’t have any reason to go beyond that.”

PHS is scheduled to open the 2016 varsity football campaign Aug. 26, on the road, against the Kellyville Ponies.

Tillman played on three straight state championship-winning teams of the Fairfax Red Devilsin the mid-1970’s. One of his high school coaches, Larry Coker, went on to win collegiate national titles as head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes.

At Oklahoma State University, Tillman was recruited by head coach Jim Stanley but finished under future Dallas Cowboys’ coach Jimmie Johnson after Stanley was fired. Tillman served a year as an OSU assistant coach while and while he working on a Master’s Degree in Education. He later spent four years coaching at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

Tillman’s selection as Pawhuska’s head coach came on June 7 — one day after he had been elected to Osage Congress. (He finished second among 15 candidates, with the top six winning seats on the tribal legislature.

“Right now, I can’t help being excited,” Tillman admitted.

Players due back for the 2016 Huskies include seniors John Bighorse, Caleb Bruce, Warren Graves, Ben Gray, Colten Hindman and Nathan Richardson, as well as William Merrill, Eli Red Eagle and Travis Pryce. Also returning are juniors Kienan Cheves, Dalton Lough, D’Artagnan Stone, Braydon Wilson, Blue Starr, Jet Thomas and Chandler Glendenning, and sophomore Price Perrier.

PHS’s incoming freshman class has lost only two games in the past three years. Most of the players on the ninth-grade squad were coached by Tillman, Drummond and Long in 2013. That coaching trio has claimed three consecutive league fifth-sixth grade championships with teams that posted 26 straight victories.


Next fall’s PHS varsity gridiron campaign will start with back-to-back road games, Aug. 26 in Kellyville and Sept. 2 at Morrison. Two straight Friday home contests are to follow — Sept. 9 versus Dewey and with Hominy on Sept. 16. PHS will have an open date Friday, September 23, before the start of its six-game schedule of District 2A-1 contests.

After Friday road matchups at Tonkawa, Sept. 30, and Newkirk on Oct. 7, the Huskies are to host Hennessey in a Thursday game, Oct. 13, and Alva on Friday, Oct. 21. A final road trip to Enid for a contest with Chisholm will be Friday, Oct. 28, a week before PHS is to conclude its regular season at home against Perry on Friday, Nov. 4.

This will be the Huskies ’ first season competing under the new district alignment. Familiar foes Caney Valley, Chelsea, Nowata and Oklahoma Union are no longer on the local schedule. The new order switched Pawhuska and defending Class 2A state champion Adair, which is to join the aforementioned four schools, Commerce and Wyandotte in District 2A-8.