For Mark Littrell, the decision to come home came to him nearly three months ago, and it came on strong.
Like a force of nature, the one-time Olathe South head football coach found himself being pulled back to his roots. After completing a coaching clinic with a group of former Sunflower League colleagues in late January, the offensive line coach at Birdville High in Texas was driving back with his wife.
"Walking into that room and seeing all the old faces, it just was another moment that made me realize I wanted to get back here," Littrell said. "I told my wife then and there,
"Honey, I'm going to try really hard to get us back home.'"
From then on, the man who had once led Olathe South to three state title games during a 10-year span began to search for a way to get back to the area he loved.
While that journey was beginning, Leavenworth High School was about to start its own search. In mid-February, former head coach Kevin Kopecky announced he was leaving to take the same post at Eudora High School.
For the up-and-coming Pioneer program, it was a blow. During his three-year tenure at LV, Kopecky led the Pioneers to its first playoff appearance in three decades and its best record, 4-5 this past season, in nearly 10 years.
So, at the end of February, here stood a school that needed a proven coach to continue its program's resurrection. And on the other side, here stood a coach who was highly successful in the very same conference, but needed a school to give him an opportunity to come back home.
The match seemed too perfect to ignore, and ultimately, it was. After a month-long hunt, the LHS school board officially approved the hire Monday of Mark Littrell as the Pioneers new head football coach.
"He is the absolute perfect face for our program," Leavenworth athletic director Shawn Terry said. "With his experience as a three-time state runner-up at Olathe South, and then his experience the past five years in Texas at a pretty big school down there, it's a great fit."
Thanks to Littrell's deep and successful history within the Sunflower League, Terry's statement may be an understatement.
"I'm excited," the coach said. "I'm happy to be coming back. I have a lot of friends in the area and though between those lines we will be competitors, the rest of the time we are good friends and I'm happy to be back."
After six years of coaching in St. Joseph, Mo., Littrell joined the Olathe South staff back in 1982.
He was then promoted to head coach in 1998 and was given the task of resurrecting a program that was marred in a treasury scandal involving his predecessor.
Page 2 of 3 - Under those unfortunate circumstances, Littrell not only turned a fledgling football team around, but built a conference powerhouse while doing so. Over the next decade, the Falcons accumulated a 71-33 record, including three trips to the 6A state title game in 1999, 2004 and 2007.
In 2008, Littrell accepted the offensive coordinator position with former Olathe North head coach Gene Wier down at Richland High School near Fort Worth, Texas.
This past season, Littrell became the offensive line coach at a different high school in the same district, Birdville High, where the team went 13-1 and lost in the 4A quarterfinals.
"My wife and I, when we moved down here five years ago, we said we were going to give it some time and reevaluate," Littrell said. "And we just made the decision to come back home. Family, friends and the opportunity to be a head coach again.
"That first year I came down to be a coordinator I instantly began missing being a head coach. So to be able to do that in a community like Leavenworth is exciting."
That background, along with the strong standing he still has with the area coaching community including the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association — which he actually served on as president back during his South era — made him near perfect in Terry's eyes.
"It was huge," the athletic director said. "He knows all the coaches in the league and Kansas City area. He has worked with multiple colleges in the Texas area and I'm sure he will do the same thing here.
"There are just a whole bunch of things that made him the best choice. His experience, the way he runs a program and ultimately, I think he can take our program to the next level."
The transition will begin immediately, though Littrell won't be up in Leavenworth full-time until he has fulfilled his contract at Birdville.
That expires at the end of May.
"I like to match my schemes to my personnel and so I don't really have a set offense," Littrell said. "I just need to get up there and evaluate the film before making any real decisions.
"Defensively, I've always been around a 4-3 type scheme but like I said, my staff and I will evaluate the film and decide what is best for the football team."
Terry hopes to introduce Littrell, along with his family, to the local community some time during the upcoming weeks.
"I know we will work hard." Littrell said. "The players will work hard, the coaches will work hard and we will try to just keep this going in the right direction.
Page 3 of 3 - "I believe the biggest two things in building a program are hard work and discipline. Do those two things, and everything usually takes care of itself."