02/22/2011 16:37

Toby Keith, Assistant Football Coach.


The Norman Transcript

October 26, 2009

Coach 'n' Y'all

Norman country music star Toby Keith helps coach football team

By Michael Kinney

With 19 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs, two feature movies and his own record label, Toby Keith has led a pretty spectacular life. From his days growing up in Moore to touring the country, he has seemingly done it all.

But while Keith could probably go anywhere in the country to relax and enjoy a celebrity's lifestyle, he is found six days a week and three hours a day showing seventh graders how to take in pulling guards and sack the quarterback.

Keith, a longtime Norman resident, is a member of Norman's Whittier Middle School's seventh grade football coaching staff.

"I have always been really, really close to football," Keith said. "I know some people would be surprised that being a successful songwriter, that they would think he couldn't coach. But we have been very successful at it."

This is Keith's first year with the Warriors, but it's not his time for coaching. His credentials spread back to before he made it big in the music business and includes winning titles in the Optimist league.

"It's a love for me," Keith said. "The first thing I did when I got through playing with the Oklahoma City Drillers, I had tryouts with the Oklahoma Outlaws in the USFL. I found out right there what level of player it takes to get to that next level. Even though I didn't have a kid at the time, I ran right out and started coaching little league football. And then when my son came along, I said I will be there at day one. So I just routed my schedule around it."

Keith's arrival on the scene at Whittier is not him trying to work his way up the coaching ladder. After coaching his son, Stelen Covel, throughout his grade school years, he wanted to continue the process.

Enter Robert Webb, Whittier's head football coach. In the five years he has been with the Warriors, Webb has encouraged parents to be vital parts of their kids' football experience. That includes everything from booster clubs organizers to members of his coaching staff.

So, when Keith asked to join Webb's staff this year, it was the same as if any of the other dads on the team asked.

"Coach Keith as been an absolute asset to the program," Webb said. "In fact, he just kind of fits right in with what we do here. I feel like we need extra coaches out here to get done the quality of coaching that we want. So we are very committed to recruiting a lot of committed dads. We have 17 coaches all told between the seventh and eighth grade."

But even more than just teaching the kids how to play football, Webb and his coaches want to teach them how to be men.

"We talk almost every day about how you're one play away from never playing again," Webb said. "While football is the greatest game ever, it's just a game. The thing that transpires most and holds them over for the long haul is the academics. There are three parts to a Whittier football player. The physical part. The academics parts. The other part is their personal development and their faith and their personal relationships with teachers and parents. We feel in order for a guy to develop and go on to be an outstanding young man, those three parts need to be taken care of."

Having fathers like Keith around makes the job of creating young men an easier task. Mostly, because those are the same aspirations Keith has for his own son and all the boys he coaches.

"We teach them responsibility," Keith said. "At this level here, you have to get your grades, you have to be eligible to play. They learn discipline. They learn responsibility. I think it helps them grow as kids. I want to see these kids all do good. I don't want to see a bunch of thugs or drug heads. I want these kids to grow up to be pillars of the community and be good citizens. Football is the greatest sport on earth. It teaches you everything you need to know to go forward in life, as far as being a gentleman and good sportsmanship."

Like the kids he now coaches, Keith's football career began at a young age. From the little league fields to a defensive end at Moore High to a semi-pro, he has learned the value of a good coach. He wants to have the same affect on his players.

"My first coach was Eli Billings," Keith said. "All the way until I played for the Oklahoma City Drillers for two years in the '80s, all the coaches I had meant something to me. But my junior high and little league Optimist level coaches were the most formidable to showing me what it was going to take."

Michael Kinney 366-3537 mkinney@normantranscript.com





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