REDWOOD VALLEY - Many times a high school coach will decide to step down when the cupboard is bare and the future looks bleak. Rarely does one leave after a three-year tenure that included two state titles and a state runner-up finish and with the cupboard still well-stocked.
That's what Markus Okeson did. The 28-year-old decided to leave Ellsworth after his second Class A state boys basketball crown and accepted a job as an eighth grade Language Arts teacher and head boys basketball coach at Redwood Valley High School in Redwood Falls.
"I wanted to get into a larger school system," explained Okeson. "It was really hard leaving, but I also thought going from Class A to AA would present new challenges. And I wanted to get closer to home. My parents live in Detroit Lakes so this is about an hour or so closer."
Okeson graduated in 1999 from Frazee where he was a three-year starter on the basketball team. He played two years of college ball at Northland Community College and then graduated from Bemidji State University in 2003.
He was an assistant coach for one season at Ellsworth, a school in southern Minnesota with 60 students in the top four grades, before landing the head coaching job. With Cody Schilling, the state's all-time scorer leading the way, Okeson posted a 91-8 record in three years. The Panthers were second to Rushford-Peterson in the 2006 state final and then won consecutive state titles in 2007 and '08.
"I had some great kids to work with at Ellsworth," said Okeson. "It made my job a lot easier. It was very hard to leave them, but it's something I felt I had to do."
Okeson's wife, Destany, is an elementary teacher at Redwood Valley. They have a 16-month-old daughter, Kyleigh.
Okeson inherited a team at Redwood Valley with another outstanding player, senior guard Michael Felt, who is on pace to break the Tribune area's 47-year-old career scoring mark set by Bob Bruggers of Danube.
"He is definitely one of the top players in the state," said Okeson. "He is very coachable and very talented. He's like having a coach on the floor.
Redwood Valley, which plays in Class AA and has 383 students in the top four grades, is currently 5-1 under Okeson, giving him a 96-9 (92 percent) career record.
"My coaching style is that I like to push the ball upcourt and not let the defense get set," said Okeson. "I want them to take the first good shot they see. I don't tell the kids they have to pass the ball so many passes before they shoot or that they have to get a shot off in a certain amount of time. Just be smart. Make smart passes and take good shots. Then get back on defense."
Seems simple enough. Especially if you're winning 92 percent of your games.