Tascosa football coach Ken Plunk is the longest tenured coach in the Texas Panhandle beginning his 13th season with the Rebels. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
It took 14 years for Ken Plunk to become the dean of Texas Panhandle high school football coaches.
He’s not sure how to feel about that.
“It’s kind of a dubious honor,” Plunk said. “I guess it means I outlasted all the rest of those guys.”
There’s been nothing dubious about Plunk’s tenure at Tascosa, particularly the second half of it. Beginning his 13th season at the helm of the Rebels this fall, Plunk has chalked up a 79-61 record (96-66 overall including two years at Randall), highlighted by a trip to the Class 6A Division II state semifinals in 2018.
This also is a landmark season for Plunk as a coach, in that he’s now been a head coach at one place longer than he was an assistant at several schools combined. Plunk moved to Tascosa from Randall in 2009 and before he was head coach for two seasons at Randall, he’d been an assistant for 12 seasons.
“Before Tascosa my longest tenure anywhere was three years” Plunk said. “Sometimes we left voluntarily and sometimes we left because people wanted us to leave. That’s kind of the way the coaching profession works.”
Plunk served his coaching apprenticeship as an assistant at such iconic programs as Dallas Highland Park and Odessa Permian. He had a role in the movie “Friday Night Lights” as a Permian assistant, and he’s listed in the credits at imdb.com as “Coach Plunk.”
When Plunk took over at Tascosa, he decided to put his coaching wanderlust on simmer for the time being. Having three sons potentially be students and players at Tascosa factored heavily into his decision, along with his wife Debbie being an instructor for the campus dance troupe, the Highsteppers.”The main thing is we had moved so many times and Alex, my oldest, had been at multiple schools,” Plunk said.” I moved from Randall to Tascosa and I knew it was a good job and I told Alex ‘I’m going to do everything I can to get you graduated from high school without moving again.’ This was probably about the fifth school he had attended.
“We had Jacob and Joseph (his two youngest sons) come through and my wife works here and we fell in love with the school and the community. We felt like it was a place we could make a difference and a place we could win football games.”
There were a few struggles early in Plunk’s tenure, but he and the Rebels have been winning some football games since 2014. In six of the last seven seasons, Tascosa has won at least one playoff game, whether competing in Class 6A or 5A, and the lone season in that span the Rebels missed the playoffs, 2017, they were 6-4.
That rise coincides with installing the heavily run-oriented flexbone offense, which as about as diametrically opposed to the preferred spread as could possibly be.
“We made the playoffs two of the first three years then we hit rock-bottom,” Plunk said. “We just didn’t play well. We changed the offense we were in and we were not effective and running it and we were not effective at coaching it.
“We were not reaching the kids the way we should, but we continued to work hard and do what we do. We continued to treat kids well, then we had a couple of breakout seasons, a 9-3, a 10-3 then of course the semifinals. I think it was just being persistent and believing in what we were doing as a program. Eventually wins started coming and kids started believing.”
A lot of that goes back to Plunk’s East Texas roots as the quarterback in an option offense at Kilgore High. It also meant literally getting more physical, on and off the field.
Tascosa senior Major Everhart, a standout at both running back and defensive back who has attracted attention from several Division I programs, says the team has bought in to Plunk’s vision of offense.“We grind in the weight room every day and that just builds our physicality,” Everhart said.” We’re the type of offense that’s just going to run it through you. We know what we’re going to do and we’re not scared if you know it so you’re going to have to stop us.
“We know we’re going to run the ball so that’s a big factor for me definitely to be ready for that. We’re getting a lot more attention from colleges.”
It hasn’t hurt having players like King Doerue (running back at Purdue), Brandon White (defensive back at Baylor), LB Moore (defensive end at Texas Tech) and Plunk’s youngest son Joseph, who quarterbacked the flexbone to the state semifinal in 2018 and has walked on at Tech.
Tascosa coach Ken Plunk is four wins shy of 100 career victories. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
But as much as talent, Plunk seems to be developing attitude and tradition at Tascosa. That in part explains why it was a fairly seamless transition running the flexbone last year after Joseph Plunk graduated and B.T. Daniel took over for good at quarterback midway through last season.
By the time Daniel inherited the job, he felt like he understood it inside and out.
“I felt very confident because the coaches did a very good job of prepping us in running the triple option,” Daniel said. “I’m still watching (Joseph Plunk) in film sessions right now. Our sophomore year when he was a senior, I had a locker right next to him and any time I had a question I would just pick his brain.”
“(Ken Plunk) is a great coach and I can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t want to play under him. I wasn’t expecting to be a quarterback, I was expecting to be somewhere on defense, but I think it’s worked out.”
The same could be said for running the flexbone. It took a few years for the Rebels to find their feet running it, but there’s been no turning back.
“It seemed like a big risk when we couldn’t do it,” Plunk said. “I’d been some places like Dallas Highland Park that employed it very, very well back in the 90s and what I wanted to do was give us an offense that was a playoff offense. When you do something people don’t see every week it makes it a little more difficult to prepare for.”
Even foes who might be familiar with the Rebels might feel like that. The flexbone is hard to simulate in practice and difficult to get film of since so few teams run it.
Amarillo High coach Chad Dunnam knows that first hand. Not only has he faced the Rebels each of his first three years at AHS in the traditional crosstown rivalry (the two teams meet this season on Oct. 8 in a District 2-5A Division I showdown), but Dunnam was defensive coordinator for Plunk at Tascosa before taking his first head coaching job at Dumas.
“Coach Plunk is going to have a well-prepared team every week,” Dunnam said. “He trains his kids year-round. You better expect the unexpected from Ken. He’s a riverboat gambler. You’re going to find something you haven’t seen.
“We saw something last year with the utilization of Everhart at quarterback. He’ll fake a punt on you or go for two instead of kick an extra point.”
That’s just one indication of how Plunk likes to think outside the box while doing something conventional. He became friends with Texas Tech chess coach Alex Onischuck, a chess grandmaster, and has played him several times over the past decade, admitting he could never come close to beating him.
Coaching football, of course, is another matter. Being different has served Plunk well at Tascosa, and success has meant other programs wanting to do what the Rebels do offensively, or at least find out about it.“There’s two in the area who if you count Permian and Midland High who are very similar to us,” Plunk said of running the flexbone. “We have a lot of schools who come by and we go by a lot of schools. It is unique and I hope it stays that way because it’s a benefit to us. With the success we’ve had I don’t think it’s going to stay unique for long.”
Plunk now takes over the mantle of longest-tenured area head coach from Canyon’s Blake Bryant, who announced his retirement last spring after leading the Eagles to a state semifinal berth. Tascosa looks primed to make a similar run this season with plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball.
It’s not hard to find Plunk’s influence outside of Tascosa as well. Two former assistants are now head coaches, as Dunnam and Panhandle’s Dane Ashley have both been leading successful programs for several years.
Dunnam acknowledges Plunk’s influence.
“He handles people well, he treats his coaches fairly,” Dunnam said. “Ken’s a worker. I felt the time I worked for Ken I was treated well. When I was an assistant I never thought about being a head coach. I think it just happened.
“When the time’s right, the time’s right. My advice to young, aspiring guys wanting to be head coaches is to be the best assistant you can possibly be and be the most loyal you can be to your head coach and good things will happen.”
That sounds suspiciously close to Plunk’s own career trajectory. He’s now stamped his identity on a program which has expectations of all who enter it.
“The thing we try to do is that we have a brand of football we try to play,” Plunk said. “We try to act a certain way. We don’t get 15-yarders (penalties). We play good, hard football. We’re going to be a team you can take your third and fourth graders to watch.”
And maybe become Rebels one day.