(Part Two of a three-part series.)

WHEN RON COLE CAME TO JEFFERSON CITY IN 1975, his indoctrination into Pete Adkins' program didn't take long.

Old school was shaking hands with old school, after all.

"When I got here, all the coaches I'd had in high school and college, they all had the same philosophy as Pete Adkins --- hard work and fundamentals," Cole said. "You better know how to tackle and you better know how to block.

"Football is a sport where you have to do things over and over and over and over. It's a repetition sport. It can get monotonous, because you do the same thing every day and you expect to improve every day. Every day when you walked off the practice field, you were a better football player. If you didn't improve, then you weren't working hard enough, you were loafing, or you didn't care.

"So I had that drilled into me before I got to Jeff City."

This is not to say Cole didn't learn from Adkins, who won 354 games in 37 seasons at Jefferson City and 405 overall, including seven years at Centralia.

When you have stadium named after you, you've probably done something right.

"I had never been around anybody who showed me how to put a program together like Pete did," said Cole, who'd had previous stints as head coach at Cassville and Iberia. "It wasn't only about the fundamentals, hard work and improving every day, it was how to start your program at the seventh grade and build on it each year so that when they got to be juniors and seniors, they were ready to play. They'd know the terminology, they'd know the schemes.

"That's what Pete did."

It was the model program, a program that defined high school football in Missouri, and a program that was one of the successful in the nation.

"Now turn around and look at Webb City today, look at Francis Howell, look at Blue Springs, Rockhurst ... they have programs," Cole said. "They're doing the same things we did, that's when you win championships."

Pete's coaching staff? Oh my, were they good. Not just the varsity and JV coaches, but the coaches at the youngest levels of the program, back to where the program was taking root.

"The coaches I worked with in '75 at the junior high level, you had guys like Gail Jones --- he was one of the best football coaches that I've seen --- and he was our eighth grade coach," Cole said. "Then you had Dennis Vallandingham, another coach who could have coached at a higher level, and a bunch of other guys like that.

"Coach (Adkins) had his program lined up and he had his coaches lined up. There was nothing left to chance and there was no maneuvering --- these are the plays you were going to run, this is the defense you were going to run. Run them right and quit looking to draw a magic play in the dirt, it doesn't happen.

"He would chew your butt out if you didn't do the right thing, whether you were a player or you were a coach. But he would still listen to ideas, he was always looking for that edge, a better way to do things that nobody else was doing.

"He wasn't so rigid that he would never change; we put in new stuff all the time. It may have looked like the wishbone every year, but we were changing it, how we blocked it and things like that."

The varsity coaching staff included stalwarts like Dennis Licklider, Steve Johnson, Kirk Obermiller and Tony Grosso.

"Our coaching staff stayed together and these were great, great coaches," Cole said. "That coaching staff was so solid, we knew what the other guy was thinking before he even said it."

As we addressed in the first part of the series, a program's success starts with the administration. That, too, was in place.

"I'll give you an example," Cole said. "Marvin Fleming, when he was principal of the high school (in the 1960s, 70s and 80s), every year before football started he came down to the locker room and he talked to all the football coaches. He told us that we were the sport that started out the school year and if we were successful, the school would be successful. If we fell on our face, then the school would have a bad year, as far as the student body goes.

"He recognized the importance of morale and school spirit being a big part of having a good school year. He wanted us to know that it was very, very important that we do our jobs well so the school could be successful."


(It appears football certainly set the tone. From 1976-97, the Jays won a state-best 10 state championships, while the school's other sports combined to win 12 --- more than the vast majority of schools in Missouri. In the 1990s alone, the Jays won five state football titles, finished second once and lost in the semifinals two other times. The same decade, the other sports had a staggering 47 Top-4 finishes and won eight state championships --- no other school came close to those numbers. 

But since the turn of the century and the decline of the football program --- three trips to the semifinals, no state championships --- the other programs have followed suit. With one big exception --- track and field, where Licklider made it the new football program, the school's new dynasty, with a combined 14 Top-4 finishes (boys and girls) and six state championships. But that program, too, has declined since Licklider retired in 2009.

The other sports have combined for only 10 Top-4 finishes and one state championship the last 16 years.)


Fleming was principal of the high school for more than three decades, and had a huge impact on both academics and athletics. What's just up the hill from Adkins Stadium? Fleming Fieldhouse.

"He really believed that sports, all of them, were of great importance to the morale of the school and learning in the classroom --- of course that's the most important thing, getting your diploma," Cole said. "But we started it all, football started it all. You had to be successful ... 6-5 or 7-3 or 8-2 wasn't good enough.

"You had to win championships."

Without Pete, however --- the 354 wins, all the undefeated seasons, all the state championships --- would not have happened.

Could his gruff, old-school style work today? Cole is convinced.

"The way he handled things, I guess you could say he wasn't always politically correct," Cole said. "He could be a little rough around the edges. But if you go to a Rockhurst practice today, or a Webb City practice today, you'd see those guys coaching just like Pete did.

"I think Pete could still handle the kids, I think he could still handle the parents, I'm just not sure he could still handle the coaches. Some of the coaches don't want to work that hard anymore; he would have more trouble with them than the kids. I ran into the same problem."

After Adkins' historic run, Cole went 66-19 in seven years at the helm, before health concerns forced him into retirement. Cole won a state championship in 1997 with a loaded team that included players like Justin Smith, Justin Gage and Kirk Farmer. He also went to the state championship game in 1998, while advancing to the semifinals three other times with teams of lesser talent.

"We had a bunch of true Jays, a bunch of overachieving kids," Cole said.

His is a record most coaches at most schools could only dream of. But Cole wasn't replacing just any coach and this wasn't just any school.

The Jays had won four state championships in five years prior at Adkins' retirement. And to this day, fans insist it would have been five straight if not for Blue Springs making a mud pit of its home field prior to the 1992 semifinals --- fans speculate Blue Springs saturated the field on purpose --- to offset the Jays' speed and take advantage of the Wildcats' size.

Still, Cole stands by his record.

"The only thing I tell people," Cole said, "is that I don't have anything to be ashamed of. We won districts every year, we were in the playoffs every year.

"We wanted to be ready for district play, that's what our emphasis was. We tried to pinpoint everything to the playoffs and I think we did that."

Cole was replaced in 2002 by Tony Grosso, who suffered through four difficult seasons --- 19-21 and no trips to the playoffs.

"It wasn't from lack of effort," Cole said of Grosso, who's now assistant head coach for a successful program in Paris, Texas. "First of all, there was a big down cycle in talent. Pete had one of those (2-8 in 1980) and it took us two or three years to get back where we belonged.

"I told Tony that it was going to be tough, because there just wasn't much talent. But I'm telling you, just when he had the kids to win, they fired him. If he would have had one more year, I think they would have been okay."

After Grosso was fired, Ted LePage was hired in 2006 and has been head coach of the Jays since.


PART THREE: The LePage years and the future of the program.


PART ONE: The fights Cole had with the administration, and the standard for the school's athletic success.

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at loefflerslink@hotmail.com.

Ron Cole was a 20-year stalwart on the coaching staff of legendary head coach Pete Adkins (above), who won 354 games and nine state championships during his 37-year career with the Jays.

Loeffler's Link

A football life:
Cole's thoughts
on the Jays past,
present and future

(Part One)

Ron Cole on Pete Adkins:

'He had his program lined up ...

there was nothing left to chance'