The athletic department at Oklahoma Baptist is coming off yet another successful season – and is experiencing some of the unintended consequences of it.
This athletic year, OBU captured its second consecutive Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup championship, which is known as ‘the crowning achievement in college athletics.’ The program honors schools that have achieved success in sports throughout the program, both men’s and women’s sports.
The Bison took the title again. And other programs are now reaching in to try to grab a piece of that success for themselves.
The OBU coaching cupboard is being raided.
In less than a month, three longtime assistant coaches have been hired to lead programs at other universities.
Director of Athletics, Robert Davenport, spoke about seeing both sides of the coin.
“It’s good for them, but it’s bad for us,” Davenport said, with a smile.
“But it’s a legacy for our university and our coaches that we’ve had guys that have come along and been mentored and learned their skills and earned a spot as a head collegiate coach at good institutions.”
This week, Zach Johnson, the cross country and assistant track and field coach, became the latest Bison coach to be hired away to replicate the success seen in Shawnee. He is headed to Lawton to lead the Cameron cross country program.
Johnson ran for OBU, winning the national title in the marathon in 1999, and became a coach for the Bison in 2004.
Just a week before, Rogers State named Chris Klimas its new head baseball coach. Klimas was a player, assistant coach and most recently associate coach at OBU from 1999 until this season and will be just the second head baseball coach in the Claremore school’s history.
“I was talking to (OBU head baseball coach) Bobby Cox and Chris before the interview even and I just said, ‘Well Chris, selfishly, I hope you don’t get it.’”, Davenport said. “’But for you and your family and career, that’s a great move.’
“And that’s the same thing for Kyle Tolin and Zach Johnson as well.’ Those guys will always have OBU attached to them. It’s a testament to our coaches that they’re developing the kind of young coaches that are going to go out and continue to cultivate winning programs and programs that do things the right way.
Just as Johnson and Klimas, Tolin followed a successful playing career at OBU to step into the coaching ranks for the Bison.
Kyle Tolin worked as an assistant for a decade under his father, Doug, and the Bison made the NAIA national tournament in each of the 14 years he was a player or coach. He now takes the reins as the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Arkansas-Monticello.
Each of the three spent at least a decade as a coach at Oklahoma Baptist.
“That says a lot,” Davenport said. “To me, that says OBU is a good place to work.
“As a former Bison, I graduated in the 80’s and came back in the 90’s as an assistant coach with (now Mercer University men’s basketball coach Bob) Hoffman. And I’m back again for the third time. And that says a lot to me that it’s just a good place.
“It’s easy to recruit, relatively speaking. And I’ve been a lot of places that it wasn’t easy to recruit. That bodes well for the university. And at the same time, those programs that those guys were recruiting for, they’ve helped create and maintain their level of prominence.
“All three had a huge hand in that and I think it’s very impressive.”
The value given to leadership in the athletic programs is high, as reflected by the desire of other universities to snatch up what might have been the next generation of coaching greats for the Bison.
“I’d like to be able to take a little bit of credit for the Directors’ Cup, but I can’t,” Davenport said. “Our coaches and our athletes, they’re the ones that have earned that.
“I look at our coaches and they have recruited student-athletes who have put us in a position to win that back-to-back years. We’ve had great leadership from our coaches to be able to cultivate that talent. And that’s really amazing.
“For us, with the sports we have and the coaches we have, that’s just a testament to them and what they’ve done.”
In light of what the coaches like Johnson, Klimas and Tolin bring to the table with leadership, Davenport pointed out who they bring to the table, as well.
Since arriving at OBU as the director of athletics in 2011, Davenport has instituted a check of the overall department GPA.
“I just finished my third year here and at the end of my first year, the overall GPA was at a 3.01 and we finished fourth in the Directors’ Cup that year.
“Last year, we won the Cup and our GPA went up to 3.04. This year we won it again and our GPA went up to 3.11.
“To me that says as much about our coaches, that they are recruiting student-athletes that are going to class and are graduating and becoming productive members of society. And they are going on to get head coaching jobs.
“And those are the expectations that those three guys have of the jobs they have now because that’s what they learned here.”
The three former assistants have earned the opportunity to take the top spot of the coaching ranks at a program. And the sidelines at OBU will not look quite the same without them.
Davenport said he wishes them well and believes each will continue to achieve.
“Success breeds success. And that’s what we hope to see from those three guys is that they continue breeding success, both academically and athletically.”