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Coming home: Spiro native Kyle Fowler takes over as Bulldogs football coach

Fowler is a former Bulldogs player and assistant coach.

By Buck Ringgold

When addressing his Salina football team, Kyle Fowler told them there were two coaching jobs he would consider leaving them for if given the opportunity.

One was his favorite college football team, the University of Oklahoma. The other was his alma mater, Spiro.

While Fowler never heard from the Sooners when they were filling their coaching vacancy several months ago, he did hear from Spiro and finally decided to return home.

Fowler, who has nearly two decades of head coaching experience, was announced as the Bulldogs' new coach earlier this week.

"I'll tell you exactly what I told the kids there at Salina; there was two jobs I would leave Salina for, and one of them (Oklahoma) was taken by Brent Venables not too long ago. ... I was serious when I said that and that was the truth," Fowler said. "But (Spiro) was certainly one place that would draw me back in a hurry."

The former Bulldog player also has prior coaching experience at Spiro. He was an assistant under longtime coach Chris Bunch in the 1990s, and was part of two Bulldog teams that finished as Class 3A state runner-up in 1996 and again in 1998.

Fowler also served five seasons as Spiro's baseball coach. In 1991, he led the Bulldogs to the 3A state title, a team that included Ryan Franklin, who helped lead the United States to the 2000 Olympic gold medal and was later an All-Star closer for the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I coached there 10 years through the '90s, baseball and football and everything else, but once I left there, I got a few head coaching gigs," Fowler said. "But I guess the dream job was to always come back to Spiro, but the timing was just never there, and as I'm ending my coaching career, everything kind of fell into place and I couldn't be more ecstatic to be able to go back and finish out my coaching career in Spiro."

Fowler's first head coaching job was in 2001 at Vian, a tradition-rich program that had fallen on hard times, and in fact was winless the season before he arrived. But Fowler helped revive the Wolverines, guiding them to two playoff appearances in three seasons before leaving to take over at Muldrow.

Like Vian, Muldrow had gone winless the season before he arrived. Again, Fowler worked his magic, and the Bulldogs eventually qualified for the postseason for three straight seasons, from 2006-08.

Fowler served two stints at Salina, having previously served there from 2013-15. In his first season there, he led the Wildcats from four wins to a 9-3 record. 

After a stint coaching junior high football in Van Buren, Ark., Fowler returned to Salina this past season, with the Wildcats finishing 5-5.

Coincidentally, that was also Spiro's record last season under Brett Davis, who left after one season to coach high school football in Arizona.

Davis had replaced Bunch, who retired following the 2020 season after guiding the Bulldogs for 31 seasons, winning 228 games. When Bunch retired, Fowler decided against going after the job because he preferred not to be the man to follow Bunch.

This time, though, when the Spiro job opened again, Fowler was very interested in coming back home.

"Coach Bunch was a legend at Spiro; I had the luxury of playing for him and then getting to coach with him, and I knew the last thing you want to do was follow up a legend like that," Fowler said. "So, things had fallen into place for me to actually come back to Salina at that time, and it wasn't even a consideration, it really wasn't.

"But whenever it opened up this time, everything really fell right and it's fallen into place, and I couldn't have asked for it to fall into place any better right now."

And one of the first people to reach out and congratulate Fowler on the Spiro job was Bunch.

"Coach Bunch gave me a call and I very much appreciated the call from him, congratulating me on the job and he offered any assistance," Fowler said.

"He had open arms to help me any way he could and I'm certainly appreciative of that. He was my coach, I played for him and I got to coach with him, so I've got a lot of admiration and respect for coach Bunch."

Fowler also brings a defensive-minded approach with him to his alma mater. When Davis took over Spiro last year, he utilized a pass-oriented offense using principles of the run and shoot.

"In my whole coaching career, everything I've done started with defense, and that's where my mentality's at," Fowler said. "I'm a firm believer that defense wins championships, and that's where we'll put our emphasis to begin with.

"Then offensively, I know the strength from everybody I've talked to and from film I've watched, we've got four returning linemen coming back and then there are several key elements of the skill positions coming back. I think we'll be a balanced team; we won't be a (run and shoot) and nothing against it, that's not what I was brought up around, but I think we'll be very balanced in giving people different looks, but again, I think our kids, I trust that they will feed off of the defensive mentality that I feel like I can bring to the program."

Fowler will finish out the school year at Salina, where he is also the principal at the middle school, before heading to his hometown.

"It's kind of one of those deals where it doesn't even seem real and probably won't seem real until we actually get down there," Fowler said. "But I had followed them throughout the years and I know now that the players that I coached whenever I was there, they've either got kids that are coming through the program or have been through the program.

"So, when you bleed that Bulldog red, it's something that doesn't ever get out of your system and I'm looking forward to being a part of it again."

Fowler was also inducted into the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020 - two years after Bunch was bestowed that same honor.