Jeff Cali Sports Editor email@example.com
The Ada News
To outsiders looking in, the timing of Donnie Husband’s announcement that he was leaving Latta after spending the last 13 years running the boys basketball program must appear bizarre, to say the least.
The dude just got through winning back-to-back state championships. No easy feat.
The Panthers have plenty of talent coming back, led by Class 2A Player of the Year Treston Tully.
And Latta will get to play ALL of its home games in the brand spanking new Taj Mahal of 2A gyms next season.
So the burning question that Husband has probably heard about a hundred times since he accepted the head boys basketball coaching job at Merritt High School is, “Why now?”
The answer: for the betterment of his family.
“You do things that you think are good for your family, and opportunities present themselves. That’s the biggest thing. It was an opportunity to do more for them,” he said. “You’ll see some new parts of the world and get to try some different things. It was just an opportunity that presented itself and sounded intriguing. We’ll see. In the end, you start thinking about 'Maybe I can do more for my family and put them in a better situation to succeed,' and that’s what we went with.”
Husband's wife, Hollie, will get to teach third grade at Merritt. And he’ll get to spend time in the gym every day with his boys: Noah, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua. Lots of extra family time.
“Hollie’s excited about that opportunity,” he said. “We get to work with every grade, three through 12, so that’s an opportunity to coach my sons every day. So I’m really excited about that.”
When Husband told Tully and the rest of the Latta roster about his decision, I’m sure they were less than thrilled. He’s a super players coach. But they knew it was the best for their mentor.
“We’ve always preached ... family comes before basketball. That’s what we’ve always put out there,” Husband said. “I think they understood that if it wasn’t a better situation for my family, they know I wouldn’t leave them.”
All that Latta has to offer made leaving a not-so-easy decision for the veteran coach.
“Those are never easy decisions. You establish so many relationships with the community and, most importantly, the kids. That’s the toughest part,” Husband said. “And it’s not just the current players you have, it’s players that came before them that you have relationships with. I’m a big relationship guy.”
Husband will miss Latta. He'll miss his players, his fellow teachers, the administration, his history students, his former players who attended every home game. He’ll miss it all.
“This community has been great to me. It’s such a special place. Everybody cares so much about their kids and their school. It’s been a real joy and pleasure to be a part of that for the last 13 years,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things I got to experience here that I never got to do before.”
Husband has compiled an impressive 271-105 record during his tenure at Latta. Under his guidance, his teams have advanced to the area tournament an incredible 12 of 13 years. The Latta boys have five state tournament appearances during that span with, of course, two state titles in 2013 and 2014.
“I know I played my role in it, but the biggest thing is the kids have left this program where it’s at right now. It’s not me. They’ve worked really hard to get to this point. All I’ve done is try to put them in a position to succeed. They’re the ones that have made the program what it is,” Husband said.
“Them and all those assistant coaches and everybody else have done the most to make that happen. I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished the last couple of years, and I expect them to continue to accomplish great things. I’ll be pulling for them in every way, shape and form.”
He recalled going to state for the first time as coach his first year at Latta.
“I can still see that game like it was yesterday,” Husband said. “Trae Graham tipped the ball away, and it was rolling down the floor as the final seconds rolled off and we beat Haworth in Wilburton. That was the first time I had got past that area tournament level.”
Throughout the years, Husband has made a special bond with numerous Latta players.
“There were so many guys that went through the program, good players, average players. You’re thankful for those guys and their time and their effort,” he said.
“Those gold balls are great and I love them and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but boy, I wouldn’t trade those relationships with all those guys that came before them and didn’t win a gold ball. They gave their heart and soul every day to try and do that too, and they just didn’t get over the hump,” he continued. “I’m so proud of the citizens and kind of people they’ve become. That’s the coolest part of it.”
Merritt is certainly no slouch. The Oilers have joined Latta at the Class 2A State Tournament for the past two years and were Class A runners-up before that.
“I have great respect for them. They’ve accomplished a lot with their program out there. Obviously, they’re doing some things right. They’ve been well-coached by Russ Rundle, who is retiring out there. That’s really a plus,” Husband said.
It’s too early to tell exactly how good Merritt will be during the 2014-15 season. But you can bet with Husband at the helm, the Oilers will be the best they can be.
“I haven’t seen them play, so I don’t know a whole lot. They have a couple of starters coming back from last year,” he said. “We didn’t set out to win a state championship the last two years here at Latta. We set out to be as good as we can be every day, and the kids made it turn into that kind of situation.”