Pawhuska close to hiring new boys basketball coach

Mike Tupa and Robert Smith Pawhuska
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

In a stunning turn of events for some observers of area prep basketball, Pawhuska High School is on the verge of hiring a new boys basketball coach to replace Jake Christenson.

The school posted a notice May 18 that it was accepting applications for the position.

Christenson said the decision to replace him was totally unexpected. Other than expressing his surprise, Christenson indicated he had no comment.

He remains in a teaching position at the school but indicated he hopes to return to coaching.

The Journal-Capital reached Pawhuska athletic director Chris Walker on Monday afternoon, and he said the school district was close to naming a successor for Christenson.

“We’re excited to hire the gentleman and we’re looking to him to build on the things the previous coaching staff put in place,” Walker said. He did not give the name of the anticipated new hire, explaining the Pawhuska Board of Education had not yet voted on the person.

Walker said he anticipated the board would hold a special meeting during which it would formalize the hire. The board’s regular meeting for this month is listed as June 15. Walker said the subject would be handled “at the next available board meeting.” As the newspaper prepared to go to press Tuesday morning, the school district had not yet posted an agenda for any special meeting.

“Just went in a different direction,” Walker said of the decision to make a change. “I think Coach Christenson set a great foundation down for any coach to come in and build on.”

Walker said the anticipated new coach is someone with collegiate experience who is expected to be able to take the Pawhuska boys basketball program to the next level of success.

“We’re expecting great things out of him,” Walker said. “It’s just decisions have been made and we’re going a different direction.”

Walker reiterated that Christenson had done a good job with the program, and said he really wanted it publicly known that the outgoing coach had done an “outstanding job” laying a foundation for future success.

Christenson — a Pawhuska High graduate and son of former Pawhuska coach Dale Christenson — guided the 2019-20 Huskies team to a strong showing.

Pawhuska bolted to a 13-2 record in its first 15 games, although it struggled down the stretch in the regular season and finished at 15-8 going into the Class 2A playoffs.

Once in the postseason, the Huskies regained their swagger and swatted away their opponents in the first four rounds by a combined score of 266-181.

They moved into the regional area round needing just one win to secure the team’s first state tourney appearance since the early 2000s. But, back-to-back losses to Top 10-ranked opponents Hooker and Pawnee ended Pawhuska’s season at 19-10.

During the 2018-19 campaign, Christenson navigated a young and inexperienced Huskie squad to a 13-11 record, which included upsetting No. 18-ranked Barnsdall in overtime and falling by just nine points in the playoffs to No. 19 Pawnee. Christenson also has served as the head boys basketball coach at Shidler and Barnsdall.

Some 2019-20 season highlights for Pawhuska:

• The Huskies hammered out a winning record (6-3) against bigger programs (Class 3A or larger).

• Three of the Huskies’ losses were to Pawnee, which advanced to the Class 2A state quarterfinals.

• Pawhuska did beat Pawnee once, 61-59, in the Class 2A regional final, but Pawnee bounced back to eliminate the Huskies from the area playoffs, 56-47.

• Against area rivals Dewey, Barnsdall and Hominy, Pawhuska finished 5-1. Barnsdall split the season series, winning a one-point win, 60-59, in the next-to-last regular season game.

• Pawhuska captured the Agra Tournament championship, beating Agra in the final, 60-57.