HOWE — Forty-four years after beginning a teaching and coaching career that began in Arkansas, Howe coach David Kaniatobe will be hanging up the whistle and clipboard at the end of this school year.
Kaniatobe, known simply as Ish or Coach K around the Howe campus, graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1969 and in that same year, took his first coaching job in North Little Rock, Ark.
What lured the coach from Oklahoma to a job in Arkansas?
“I got a job playing semi-pro football in the Continental Football League and it paid $200 per game. Doesn’t sound like much but for 16 games I made $3,200 and I only got $4,300 for teaching,” Kaniatobe said.
One year later, Kaniatobe returned to Oklahoma to begin a 30-year coaching trip through the state.
“I started at Idabel, my hometown, and from there I had jobs in Broken Bow, Henryetta, Perkins and Choctaw.”
Kaniatobe’s first head coaching job was in Broken Bow and he moved to Henryetta in 1982.
In 1983 and 1984 he worked with a young quarterback who would go on to a Hall of Fame career in the National Football League, Troy Aikman.
“Troy was a good football player and an even better kid,” Kaniatobe said. “And I still think of him as a kid. He was a hard worker, always asking me to stay after practice and let him throw a few more balls. He has never forgotten where he came from and it was a great pleasure for me when he invited us to attend his induction in the hall of fame in 2006.”
In 1986, Kaniatobe became the head coach for both football and girls’ basketball in Perkins, Okla., a job that only lasted a year because his youngest daughter, Angie, wanted to play five-on-five basketball.
“We had to move to a bigger school and I got a job in Choctaw, a 5A school just out of Oklahoma City,” he said.
After Angie graduated, Kainiatobe had put in 30 years in the Oklahoma coaching ranks and he decided to retire.
“I wanted to back off a little and just relax and have some fun,” he said. “I had to opportunity to coach all three of my girls and I tell ‘em I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that experience. Then I tell them I wouldn’t do it again for that price.”
Kaniatobe took a job coaching middle school volleyball in Sherman and was surprised when more than 250 seventh- and eighth-grade girls showed up for practice.
“About a week into practice, I got a call from Ronnie Hill at Bonham and he asked if I wanted to come be his quarterback coach.” he said. “Since he only had three quarterbacks, I decided to say yes.”
At Bonham, Kaniatobe was asked to assist the young girls’ basketball coach, an event that led to his first meeting with coach Derek Lands.
“We had this football coach who was always joking around and he told Derek that I had won 12 state championships in Oklahoma and I had come over here to take his job,” Kaniatobe said. “It took a while for Derek to warm up to me and when he saw that I just wanted to help him, we really became good friends.”
Apparently the two worked things out, because in 2001, Lands got a call from Howe athletic director Larry McFarlin asking if he would be interested in the Howe job. Lands insisted on taking Kaniatobe with him, and the two began a coaching relationship with the Lady Bulldogs that lasted five years. Kaniatobe was also the head girls’ track coach and his teams won five district titles during that first stretch at Howe.
In 2007, Kaniatobe got that coaching itch to run his own program again and returned to Bonham to take the job as head girls’ basketball coach.
“I really enjoyed my time over there,” Kaniatobe said. “I loved the kids and my assistants, but every year, Lands would ask if I wanted to come back.
“Well, in 2010 I did and now it’s come down to this.”
Just one more coaching detail to clear up before Kaniatobe hangs up the stopwatch and whistle.
Howe senior Morgan Bailey earned a wild-card spot in the 2013 UIL track and field championships and on Saturday she will be on the starting line for the 300-meter hurdles.
When it’s all over, Kaniatobe can look forward to hanging out with his wife Jody, their seven grandchildren and three great-grandkids, and maybe even some golf.
The dude still gets around pretty good, even with two rebuilt knees.