CLINTON—Phillip Koons has coached football in Oklahoma for more than 20 years. The majority of his time was spent at Tuttle High School where he led the Tigers to two state championships and produced a blue-chip quarterback named Jason White, who would later become a Heisman Trophy winner as an Oklahoma Sooner in 2003.
Yet, a darker side of Koons’ coaching career raised the ire of parents while he coached at Tuttle and now again in Clinton. In both instances, school administrators failed to inform the public of alleged misconduct and, some claim, purposefully protected Koons by participating in cover-ups to hide the coach’s wrongdoing.
It is important to note that many witnesses and sources interviewed in the course of this investigation only spoke to CIJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution against themselves or their children. As such, unnamed sources are quoted and cited within the article and are not identified pursuant to their request.
Multiple parents and students associated with the Clinton H.S. football program claim that the then-head football coach was dissatisfied with the performance of the players during the Red Tornadoes’ game against Anadarko High School on the evening of Sept. 9, 2016. Despite winning the game, they say, Koons berated the boys about it.
According to the statements of several students, Koons stood before the assembled players and lowered his trousers and underwear. After exposing his genitalia, the boys said he gestured toward his groin and spoke.
“Boys, this is a d―. You gotta have one of these to play football,” boys in attendance claimed Koons said.
Parents said that the incident was an extreme example of Koons’ coaching style. During his career, he has often been criticized for what he calls “old school” or tough coaching. The presumed meaning of the display by the players who related the story was that the boys needed to “man up” or play the game in a more courageous manner.
After a weekend of social media outrage about the incident, Koons resigned his position as the head football coach. However, Koons remains employed within the district as the middle school’s Dean of Students and as a teacher. He also continues to be involved indirectly with the football team as the strength and conditioning coach.
Multiple phone calls to Clinton Middle School seeking comment from Koons have not been returned.
A report in The Oklahoman by Jacob Unruh dated Sept. 13, 2016 relayed the reasons Koons gave for resigning his position with the team. He said that he was personally tired and was dealing with illness concerns within his family. He also cited concerns about living up to the legacy of previous coach, Mike Lee, who led the Clinton H.S. football program to nine state titles during his long tenure with the Red Tornadoes.
Clinton Public Schools superintendent Kevin Hime acknowledged the allegations of the Koons incident with the players following the Anadarko game. He said that an investigation was conducted and no wrongdoing was found. Over the Saturday-Sunday-Monday time frame between the alleged incident Friday evening and Koons’ resignation Tuesday morning, Hime said he “interviewed probably 20 people” and was satisfied that the coach’s actions were acceptable.
“It got blown out of proportion … Like anything else, there’s always something there that you can probably correct,” Hime told The Oklahoman. “But there dang sure wasn’t anything there to get you terminated.”
CIJ interviewed Hime following an investigation into the allegations and asked him about the incident.
“That rumor got out there, and we told everyone out there that they need to go to the police and no one ever did that,” he said. “Our principal interviewed all the kids that were there and nothing like that happened according to him and his interviews.”
CIJ asked Hime directly what he was referring to when he told Jacob Unruh of The Oklahoman that “there’s always something there that you can probably correct, but there dang sure wasn’t anything there to get you terminated.”
“Those are personnel issues,” he said. “But it didn’t have anything to do with this. How’s that?”
Hime said that he didn’t believe the allegations because no witnesses have come forward and no police report has been filed. He stated further that if what had been described by boys on the football team had actually happened it would be a crime and thus, beyond the purview of the school system.
Oklahoma law says that a person commits the crime of “indecent exposure,” a felony, if he “willfully and knowingly … lewdly exposes his or her person or genitals in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby.”
In addition, Oklahoma’s School Safety and Bullying Prevention Act, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2013, defines bullying as “any pattern of harassment, intimidation, threatening behavior, physical acts, verbal or electronic communication directed toward a student or group of students that results in or is reasonably perceived as being done with the intent to cause negative educational or physical results for the targeted individual or group and is communicated in such a way as to disrupt or interfere with the school’s educational mission or the education of any student.” The law requires school districts to have and follow policies to prevent and address bullying and to report certain acts to law enforcement.
“Did he break the law? In my opinion he did not,” Hime said. “In my principal’s opinion he did not, and I gotta trust my people to perform those investigations.”
However, this was not the first questionable incident by Koons at Clinton High School. Several parents of players say that their sons were insulted publicly, subjected to ridicule by fellow players at the behest of Koons, and punished for not participating in the abuse of other players.
One previous incident described by parents was a three-hour bus ride following a loss at an away game during the 2015 season when the boosters tried to feed the team, as is customary following any game, win or lose. The boys were not allowed to eat. Players would later say that Koons told them that, “they didn’t deserve to eat.”
The boys were not allowed to talk or listen to music during the three-hour ride back to Clinton. Rather, they were subjected to an obscenity-filled tirade in which, according to the players present, Koons screamed into the faces of multiple players and subjected them to relentless insults. Parents claim that several players recorded the rant with their phones and played it back for their parents to hear. CIJ has not been able to confirm the existence of these recordings.
Parents associated with the football program said that previous investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Koons were conducted in such a way that the accusers would be ostracized by the other players to the point of dropping the allegations for fear of retribution by fellow teammates. One such method described was that players on the team would be summoned one-by-one into a room with the coach and several other administrators present. In turn, the players would be told that the accuser was making the claim against the coach and the players were asked how they feel about the allegation.
The effect was that the interviewed players, intimidated by the coach and administrators in the room, would return to the team and single out the accuser, rendering him an outcast. Some parents claimed that their son witnessed the coach rewarding players who would ostracize the accuser by giving them more playing time or increased opportunity to display their talents to college scouts.
Multiple players, praised for having great talent, have left the program in favor of historically less powerful schools in order to escape the influence of Koons, according to the parents of the players.
Some of the parents speculated that the investigation by Hime and school principal Kenny Stringer was not as thorough as it should have been, and that Hime and Koons have had a personal friendship since they attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University together until their graduation in 1986. However, Hime told CIJ that he did not know Koons personally prior to interviewing him for an assistant coaching position in 2014.
“I knew who he (Koons) was,” Hime said, “but I’ll bet I hadn’t said 20 words to the man before that interview.”
Koons’ hiring at Clinton came shortly after he resigned from the Tuttle High School head football coaching position under pressure similar to the controversy surrounding his recent resignation from Clinton. He would be named head coach later the same year following the retirement of longtime Clinton coach Mike Lee. As in the situation currently associated with Koons’ dubious alleged conduct in Clinton, the pressure at that time came from Tuttle parents unhappy with his treatment of players.
Scott Wright reported Koons’ resignation from Tuttle H.S. in The Oklahoman April 18, 2014. Koons resigned his position and the Tuttle board of education convened a special meeting to either accept the resignation or reinstate the coach.
The report said that of the 50 people present at the meeting, several were there in support of Koons. No characterization was made as to how many people were there to demand that he not be reinstated. The Tuttle board of education unanimously voted to accept the resignation.
Wright’s report said parents of players had criticized Koons’ “old-school coaching style and tough treatment of players” in the past and that a similar controversy had been brewing in recent days, but no one directly involved acknowledged the controversy.
“I’m not at all in a position to talk about anything regarding a personnel matter,” Tuttle superintendent Bobby Waitman was quoted as saying. “Coach Koons made a personal decision to tender his letter of resignation, and simply, the board accepted that tonight.”
Eight months prior to Koons’ Tuttle resignation, Rusty and Chelely Owens were calling for the coach to be fired for his abusive treatment of their son, senior football player Gage Owens.
NewsChannel 4 documented the controversy in a report dated Sept. 6, 2013.
Gage Owens said he was repeatedly insulted by Koons by being called a “p—,” a reference to female genitalia, and showed reporters a text message from the coach after not lifting during a morning workout. The message read, “I see you got away without lifting once again c—,” once again a reference to female genitalia.
It was later learned that Gage Owens was at the workout in question but was not allowed to lift pursuant to a doctor’s order.
Superintendent Waitman told the reporters that he conducted an investigation following the surfacing of the allegations.
“We did go through the process of speaking with coach,” Waitman said in the interview with NewsChannel 4’s reporters.
He claimed that the word, “c—,” was just a shortened version of a nickname, Big Country, and was not intended to hurt Gage. Waitman said he was unaware of Koons’ use of the word, “p—” in reference to the player. Waitman sent a letter reassuring the parents that the word beginning with “c” would no longer be used in reference to their son.
Mr. and Mrs. Owens said that their son was suicidal following the treatment by Koons and by subsequent cruel treatment by fellow players and students following Koons’ example. They further said that their son had not returned to the school.