Ottawa High School coach Jon McKowen felt right at home in Ottawa. The pull of returning to his home state of Iowa was too much to pass up.
McKowen resigned after six years at the helm of the Cyclones and will coach and teach at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, the eighth largest school in Iowa.
“With Trey being in first grade next year and the other kids getting up there, it is time to get closer to grandma and grandpa,” McKowen said. “I preach to the kids all the time that your faith and your family is more important. We have been treated like family here. If we could pick Ottawa up and move it, we would never leave this place.
“After six years, it is tough to leave. If you put the time and effort in your job, it better be tough to leave it because it meant something to you.”
McKowen guided Ottawa to its best six-year stretch in school history. Ottawa qualified for six straight state tournaments. Ottawa played in four straight state championship games. Ottawa won its second state title in school history in 2013 with a school-best 25-0 mark.
It was not an easy decision to pull up roots and return to his home state, but McKowen said the timing felt right.
“I felt right now is a good transition time for the next coach,” he said. “The program is set up to be successful in the future. I expect nothing else.”
The Kennedy program is in good shape with the previous coach leaving after 14 years.
“It is very intriguing,” McKowen said. “I took over a program [here when] coach David Grover was pursuing an administration position. He kept the program in good shape. It is the same situation there. Usually when you take over a program it is a mess. It is not. It was very attractive to a lot of people, including us.”
The Ottawa program has a different expectation level now than when McKowen took over.
“The kids will get what they want out of it,” McKowen said. “We have 18 kids playing right now. If they continue to focus and drive in that fashion, they will stay successful. That sophomore group, a week after the state tournament, were ready to go. It is a tough place to leave. I could have sat back and done nothing a few years. The kids are self-motivated.
“I felt every single year, the kids stayed focus through the four months. Sub-state and state time, we were always smiling because we were playing our best basketball. We laid it on the line. Every year we were able to walk off with our heads held high.
“First of all you have to have enough talent to compete at that level, stay healthy, stay hungry and energized. If all that goes right, then you have to make shots. The six years were special.”
One thing McKowen will take with him is the blueprint of the Ottawa success.
“Over six years, we have had six totally different teams,” he said. “We had teams from walking it down the floor because we were good on defense and a little inept on offense to this last year where we were so good on offense we wanted to maximize possessions and get as many as possible.
“Being able to adapt to kids first. It is really easy to have a system and do the same thing year after year and try to fit your kids to the system. I have learned to fit the system to the kids. Try to make adjustments and challenge them.”
McKowen said he will not forget how his family was accepted.
“Thank you for supporting me and my family and letting us be a part of your community. We enjoyed it,” he said.