Losing all five starters from the previous year and winning a state championship? Dirk Walden has been there.
Walden guided Preston to the Class A boys state basketball championship in his first year in 2009 after the Pirates had graduated every starter in 2008. Now, he is in a potential deja vu situation.
Red Oak Public Schools recently hired Walden to succeed athletic director Trey Booth as the boys basketball coach after Booth won Class B state championships with the Eagles in 2009, 2016 and 2018. Red Oak graduated all five of its starters following this year's state championship triumph, just like Preston had done in 2008, but Walden made it clear that the expectations are unchanged.
"The goal is the same every year," Walden said. "It doesn't matter if you lose no starters or if you lose five starters. Our goal is to get back to the state tournament and see if we can win a state championship."
The 2009 state championship at Preston was Walden's second in three years. Walden coached Stringtown to the Class B state title in 2007, though he did not stay for the 2008 repeat. He left for Preston to teach and took over coaching during the 2008-2009 season, according to a July 2017 article from the Tulsa World. Walden previously began his coaching career at Preston as an assistant.
He said the two state championship teams he coached were different. Stringtown was 27-4, and he said it was probably the most talented team he had ever coached. One of those players on that 2007 Stringtown team was Tyrus McGee, who now plays professionally overseas for the LBA in Italy, and three other players on that team played NCAA Division I basketball.
In addition to graduating all five of its starters, Preston had an up and down regular season — but the team was hungry for its chance to play, Walden said.
Preston later became a Class 2A school, and made it to Championship Saturday at the Big House under Walden three more times. Each and every time, however, the Pirates came up short. Talihina defeated them in 2011, and Wewoka prevailed over Preston in both 2015 and 2016.
Walden graduated in 1992 from Indianola, where he played guard. He then spent a year at Carl Albert State College on a basketball scholarship. Walden transferred to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, but did not play and earned a degree in elementary education.
His first head coaching gig was during the early 2000s at Canadian, and the Tulsa World reported he also had coached at Achille. The article said Walden's career head coaching record is 368-99.
He said that he's the kind of coach who will adapt to his players, and not the other way around. Walden said he will adapt to his team, whether the Eagles play an all man-defense, a zone defense or a combination. Walden said Red Oak will figure and out and they will get after it.
Walden will simultaneously serve as Red Oak's high school principal. He held the title of both principal and basketball coach at Stringtown. Walden left Preston in 2017 and served as the high school principal at Henryetta during the 2017-2018 school year. He will once again get the best of both worlds.
Walden said it was tough leaving Henryetta. However, he said the opportunity for his three children to grow up in a small school and getting to coach them one day was one he could not pass up.
"I'm anticipating being here for the rest of my career," Walden said.