After more than 40 years as a football coach, Mark Littrell is retiring.
The Leavenworth Pioneers head coach announced his retirement Sunday on Twitter.
“After over 40 years of coaching,” Littrell said in the tweet. “I have decided to retire as Head Football Coach at Leavenworth HS to work for Kansas Turf. I want to thank my family for their great support and love. I also want to thank all of my former and current players, coaches, and administrators.”
Littrell said he was originally looking to potentially coach one more year.
“At the end of every season,” Littrell said, “I evaluate everything. I evaluate players, coaches and I do a self-evaluation. At the end of this year, I was going through the process of looking at everything. I talked it over with my wife and said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to go one more year and be done.’ She went ‘OK’ and was kind of like ‘I’ve heard that before.’ But I made it a point to visit with our administration and give them a heads up.”
Littrell said he was at a coaching clinic before Sean Sachen introduced the head coach to one of Sachen’s former coaches that had retired and worked for Kansas Turf.
“(Kansas Turf) said they were looking for retired coaches,” Littrell said. “They wanted to see if they would work in the business and sales. So I visited with them and went out for a meet and greet. It wasn’t really an interview. I sent them my resume and they said they wanted me to come work for them. So I thought about it and it was one of those deals of what I wanted to do when I retire. I’m going to continue to work. I’m not just quitting. I wanted to do something that kept me close to football. I can still visit with coaches, athletic directors and administrators. So this is a good product with Kansas Turf.”
Littrell said he signed his contract Friday and then informed administrators and on Twitter that he was leaving. He mentioned that he was originally looking to go work for a digital playbook company after his potential last year in 2019. Both Kansas Turf and the playbook company were at the clinic but Littrell knew the turf company was the direction he wanted to go after talking to them.
With Littrell walking away from coaching, he said he has been fortunate for how his career has gone.
“I was very fortunate with how things have come for me in coaching,” Littrell said. “I coached as an assistant and then when I got hired as a head coach at Olathe South, my daughter was a junior in my first year and son was playing college football. A lot of these coaches have young kids and have to juggle a lot of time if you want to be a good dad and a good coach. So I was fortunate that my kids were grown. But it was fun because my daughter would cheer for our games on Friday night and then I would get up and do my thing at school with the players. We would watch film, lift and all that. And then my wife, daughter and I would get in the car and drive to wherever Emporia State was playing to watch my son. And then that got to continue with my daughter cheering in college. And then she cheered for the Chiefs and I got to watch her at Arrowhead Stadium. So I have had a pretty good career with being able to juggle family, football and faith.”
Littrell’s coaching career started in 1976 at Benton High School in St. Joseph, Missouri. The young coach was an assistant on the football and track teams as well as the head wrestling coach. He then moved to Olathe South in 1982 and stuck to coaching football and weights. In 1998, Littrell was named the head coach of the football team and remained there for 10 years. He then spent five years as an assistant in Texas. Littrell was at Richland High for four years and then a year at Birdville before he returned to the Kansas City area to coach at Leavenworth in 2013.
Littrell has a lot of memories at all of his stops coaching.
“At Benton it was me being a young coach coming out of college,” he said. “You think you have all the answers. The head coach there was a guy named Dick Lehman. He did a great job to mentor and ground me. And I developed some good friendships. But St. Joe is also where I met my wife. So I need to put that down as my favorite memory there with meeting my wife and getting married.”
Littrell said there are many memories in his time at Olathe South that he will remember. One of them was coaching at the last Big Brothers and Big Sisters All-Star Game in 1989 and the first Metro All-Star Game in 1992. Both games were played at Arrowhead. He was also honored as the Chiefs Coach of the Year recipient in 1992 and got his award during the pregame ceremony.
Littrell said he originally applied to take over when Bob Wheeler retired in 1996. He said he didn’t think he was ready but was a finalist. Olathe South hired Wayne McGinnis, who had success at Blue Springs, and Littrell stayed on the staff.
“(Wayne) was more of a run and shoot guru,” Littrell said “And we had been running the wishbone. So I stayed on as his coordinator and learned a lot of football from Wayne.”
He mentioned the team struggled in two years under McGinnis before Littrell took over in 1998. The team went 7-2 in his first year and won district and sub-state in 1999.
“That’s probably one of my fondest memories,” he said. “Taking a program to their first state championship game in their existence.”
Other memories Littrell said he had at Olathe South was watching both of his kids graduate from there after he was on the staff during his son’s high school career and watching his daughter.
His favorite memory from Texas was his year at Birdville and the team making it two games away from the state championship game in their 13-1 season.
In Littrell’s first year at Leavenworth, the Pioneers defeated Shawnee Mission West, who were the defending state champions, but his favorite memory came the following season.
“The next season we won the district for the first time in school history,” Littrell said. “And we hosted the first playoff game that Leavenworth has ever played at Pioneer Stadium and won a playoff game.”
But Littrell also said regardless of the wins and losses, the camaraderie between him, his coaches and players are what he is the fondest of. It will be one of the things he will miss the most about his career. He also said he will miss the summers and the work up to the Friday games.
Along with the firsts for the Pioneers, Littrell was also honored in 2017 when he was inducted into Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the 2017 Papa John’s Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game. A year later, Littrell was the head coach in the 2018 BeYOUnion.com Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game at Leavenworth High School and led the Kansas team to a 30-0 win and snap the Missouri winning streak. While he liked the honor of being in the hall of fame, Littrell said it is just like other coaching honors.
“It’s not about me,” Littrell said. “The hall of fame belongs just as much to every player and coach at Olathe South and Leavenworth. But more importantly, it also belongs to my family. My wife has been one of the best coach’s wives on the planet … she allowed me to put the time and effort into this job. She never complained when I would be here at 5:30 a.m. I always tried to make time for my family and utilize my time but she was fantastic.”
Littrell’s last game coaching will come in this year’s Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game at the Olathe School District College Boulevard Athletic Complex. Littrell is an assistant for Lawrence Free State head coach Bob Lisher after Lisher was an assistant for Littrell in 2018. The coach will then start at Kansas Turf in July.
With the new job, he is looking forward to using his connections over the years to work with coaches and schools in the Kansas, Missouri and Iowa areas. Littrell is also excited to watch his grandson play football and watch his son coach at Waldorf University in Iowa. He said he can also use his job to work at the same time.
“I can take off and work some sales along the way,” Littrell said.
The coach said he is done coaching. The only way he would come back is to coach with his son.
“(My son) has talked to me about coming up and coaching the running backs,” he said. “But I told him ‘I’m going to take a year off and do sales and then we will see what happens.’”