Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
The timeless one, Gordon Drummond, is about to make even more soccer history
The man who made Norman a soccer town is sitting on 399 wins, still coaching young Tigers almost 40 years later
Saturday evening, maybe 5:40 p.m., over the phone, the great Gordon Drummond finally let the cat out of the bag.
“It’s fine,” he said. “It can no longer be a secret.”
Probably, it could have been.
Probably, there will be no repercussions now that he’s told us, and there would have been none had he not.
Probably, too, and maybe it’s why he's told us, we’d all faint to learn it on the eve of his 500th victory. Better to know it now, on the eve of his 400th.
Eight games into his 38th season, Drummond’s Norman High boys soccer team is 5-3. It was briefly 5-1 following a 3-1 Friday morning triumph over McGuinness at the annual Deer Creek Invitational, but the Tigers ran into Broken Arrow in the afternoon and Jenks on Saturday and those didn’t go quite as well, NHS falling 4-0 and 5-0.
So, for a few more days at least, Drummond’s sitting on 399, 11 years and month after he was sitting on 299, waiting to face Westmoore on the pitch off the interstate at Moore Central Junior High.
Who’d the Tigers beat for his hundredth and two-hundredth wins?
“I remember my French teacher from high school,” Drummond said, “but I can’t remember that.”
John Francham is the French teacher’s name, who taught Drummond in Montreal, in his native Canada.
His studies took him from Vancouver to Stanford in 1962. Some time after that, he arrived inside the University of Oklahoma’s history department, German history his concentration, and though he retired in 2001, Drummond did it with such distinction, he remains one of 13 who continue to be listed as “Emeritus Faculty” by his old department.
In the midst of all of that, he managed to become either the godfather or grandfather of Norman soccer, you choose.
It was 1976 and he and Bob Shalhope, another history professor (on the “Emeritus Faculty” list, too), wanting to give their kids a place to play, originated the Norman Youth Soccer Association.
It was eight years after that, upon the OSSAA elevating soccer to a varsity sport, NHS’ three-year club coach, Jim Walker, having left Norman, Drummond had an idea.
“Bob Shalhope’s son was playing on the club team, so I was tuned in and I saw a number of the games,” he said, “and then when Jim moved to Houston, and now we’re going to have that sanctioned sport, I just could not resist … I went and knocked on the athletic director’s door and offered my services and they didn’t fire me.”
They still haven’t.
If you haven’t put it all together, it means Drummond was hired in 1984, coached his first NHS season in the spring of ’85 and, as he momentarily sits on 399 victories, so too does the program because he’s the only coach it’s ever had.
How about that?
There were state titles in 1986, ’93, ’97 and ’99, the Tigers last playing for the Class 6A championship in 2011.
Even then their road to the top had become more difficult than Norman North’s, to say nothing of the Edmond Schools or the east-side behemoths, two of which just knocked NHS off at Deer Creek.
“They just have far more club players than we do and they’re more advanced in their skills and tactical awareness,” Drummond said. “It’s at a different level.”
But if that makes the race more difficult to run, it’s failed to reduce Drummond’s zest to run it.
“I still enjoy it. I still feel the same competitiveness … You’re dealing with young men and you hope you’re going to be able to help them on the road to maturity, but also in between, and along that road, you’re going to make them into a better team,” he said. “That means teaching them something about getting beyond themselves.”
Drummond’s been doing it for decades.
“He’s real good with coach-player relationships,” said David Nelson, back when he was Drummond’s goalkeeper, helping him get to win No. 300 and a couple months later the state title game. “We all get along with him. We all trust him.”
His coaching tree’s ridiculous.
The late Bryan Young, whom North’s North’s pitch is named after, assisted Drummond at NHS before coaching the Timberwolves to state championships in 2000 and ’03.
Geo Claros, who coached the North boys to state championships in 2010, ’12, ’14 and ’15, played for Drummond at NHS.
Don Rother, who coached the North girls to the 2014 state title, played for Drummond at NHS, then played for Young at North, then assisted Young at North, then succeeded Young at North before later taking over the North girls, before getting the job he has now, executive director of the NYSA, the organization Drummond began with Schalhope 46 years ago.
North girls coach Trevor Laffoon, who’s guided the T-Wolves to the last two Class 6A girls crowns, is a former Drummond assistant.
Kevin Chesley, NHS’ first-year girls coach was a longtime assistant of Drummond’s.
North boys coach Khalil Benalioulhaj doesn’t have a direct connection, but played for both Rother and Claros at North.
Count it up and it’s 38 years, seven U.S. presidents, seven Oklahoma governors, six Sooner football coaches and only one NHS boys soccer coach.
“I like the team, I really do,” said Drummond of his latest squad. “There’s a lot of talent and I’ve got a number of guys who really have no quit, whatsoever.”
Though Broken Arrow and Jenks outscored it 9-0, Drummond remains entirely optimistic.
“I think we learned a great deal from the experience … And, I know, in district, we’ll have a lot of close games and we’re going to be in them,” he said. “We’ve had three shootouts and we've won all three, which says we have some composure.”
Friday, district play begins when Northwest Classen visits. The following Tuesday, NHS travels to Lawton.
History’s on the precipice and Gordon Drummond’s still coaching the Tigers.
Here at Oklahoma Columnist, these are the kinds of great stories we love to tell. Join us.