Eddie Collins is finally on top of the high school baseball coaching world.

He’d be the first to admit it was quite the climb to get there.

The veteran Latta coach notched career wins No. 2,115 and 2,116 Friday night when his Panthers swept Turner by counts of 9-3 and 15-0.

A celebration of his long, fantastic career began immediately afterward.

It was as full as I’ve seen Panther Park in a long time. Family, friends, former players and coaching colleagues gathered to watch Collins earn his once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

“It’s a special night. I had no idea there was that many people here,” Collins said moments after shaking hands and fist-bumping all of his current roster and coaching staff and every one of his former players who lined up along the infield grass to salute him.

“It makes you feel really, really good. And we won a couple of ballgames today. That always makes you feel good,” he continued. “I’m flattered that this many people would come out.”

Collins has been in the coaching business — and the winning business — for 44 years. The last 40 have been spent at Latta High School. Collins started his career at Jones High School, then spent three years at Rattan before settling down in Latta.

He’s won 76 district championship, 66 regional titles, 13 state runner-up trophies and 12 state championships.

Now, he’s finally passed Murl Bowen, the Asher legend, for most wins ever on the high school level all across the United States. Bowen has had the record at 2,115 since he retired in 1998. Third on the list is current Silo head coach Billy Jack Bowen.

“I guess this just means the Lord has blessed you with longevity. Oh my. It’s really brought back a lot of memories seeing all those good baseball players out here,” he said, looking around the crowd. “They can sure make a coach look good when you have those kinds of kids out there.”

Those that are closest to Collins realize — while thankful to reach such a milestone — he was probably ready to get the chase to 2,116 behind him. He’s ready to finish getting the 2020 Panthers prepared for a playoff run.

“I never started out to chase records. It’s just hard for me to understand and comprehend. I thought coach Bowen was invincible. And there will be somebody come along and surpass this. And that’s OK. It really is,” Collins said.

“It’s been a different type of year all the way around,” he said, referring to the C-word, COVID-19.

Why coach for 44 years you ask? Collins says why not?

“I’ve been in a good place. Good administration. Good kids. And they were willing to work hard and buy into the things you did. I think that key to somebody having a successful career,” he said.

“A lot of people will say ‘I don’t know how you’ve done that for that long.’ But all I’ve known my whole life is to work,” Collins continued. “A coach is never bigger than his team. Wins don’t make you a better man and losses don’t make you a worse man. Running the race all that time is what makes the difference. The Lord has blessed me in so many ways. I’m a blessed man.”

I’ve been around for a good chunk of all those Collins/Latta victories. They couldn’t happen to a better guy. We as friends, families and sports guys are also truly blessed to be a part of this giant accomplishment. I’m a better person to have been able to forge not only a great working relationship with coach Collins but a great friendship with him and his family.

Speaking of that family, Collins is thankful he had the opportunity to break the record with his son, Jake Collins, as one of his assistant coaches.

“It’s awesome. He’s extremely bright and does a great job. He does 90% of the field work. And he bleeds Latta Black and Gold. It’s very special,” Eddie said.

And then there’s his rock, his wife Tammy Collins, who has followed him from field to field for four decades. During our record-breaking interview, I would have been remiss if I hadn’t asked him about her part during his stellar career.

“Awww. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the playoffs and had to come back and fight our way back through a regional or something like that. She’d always tell me ‘just keep coaching. Keep going. You can do this,’” Collins said.

“Or you have a heart-breaking loss and she’ll kind of get you up and say ‘Get back out there and get after ‘em.’ She’s been wonderful.”

Eddie shared a conversation he recently had about Tammy with an acquaintance of his.

“Like I told a guy the other day. I’m the boss at my house. I rule the roost,” he said. “But my wife rules the rooster.”

———o———

National Top 10 List

1. Eddie Collins*, Latta (Ada, Okla.)

Record: 2,116-737

Tenure: 1977-2019

2. Murl Bowen, Asher (Okla.)

Record: 2,115-349

Tenure: 1959-1998

3. Billy Jack Bowen*, Silo (Okla.)

Record: 2,089-408

Tenure: 1987-2019

4. Daryl Scales, Lookeba-Sickles (Lookeba, Okla.)

Record: 1,836-610

Tenure: 1984-2014

5. Gene Schulz, Kee (Lansing, Iowa)

Record: 1,754-398

Tenure: 1969-2014

6. Jack Curran, Archbishop Molloy (Queens, N.Y.)

Record: 1,708-523

Tenure: 1958-2012

7. Trey Booth*, Red Oak (Okla.)

Record: 1,462-450

Tenure: 1993-2019

8. Dennis Olejniczak, Decorah-North Winneshiek (Decorah, Iowa)

Record: 1,417-560-2

Tenure: 1963-2018

9. Mike Turo*, Monroe Campus (Bronx, N.Y.)

Record: 1,369-227

Tenure: 1978-2019

10. John Lowery*, Jefferson (Shenandoah Junction, W. Va.)

Record: 1,332-352-3

Tenure: 1971-2019

Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.

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