Cope’s bond with seniors leads to Wildcats’ success

When Watson Chapel’s Chad Cope found out he’d been named The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Coach of the Year, he responded the same way most coaches would have.

“I never like to focus on the individual stuff, especially for me, but it’s an accomplishment,” he said. “I want to thank the good Lord, because without Him none of this would be possible.

“I’ve also been fortunate to coach good players. You can do all the coaching you want, but they have got to make the plays. They are the ones out there and they are the biggest reason.”

Over the years, Cope said he has gotten close to the senior class and was proud of the way they stepped up this past season as Watson Chapel (20-6) won the 5A-South Conference title and reached the 5A state semifinals. It was an impressive year considering the Wildcats were hovering around .500 record 10 games into the season.

“Early we struggled, we got off to a slow start,” he said. “We were either 5-5 or 6-4, playing just .500 ball. … But they didn’t feel the pressure and we won a close game against I think it was Hope, 3-2. That’s when I knew we could do all right.

“We started seeing them come together and seeing the seniors start stepping up.”

Asked about his relationship with Cope, senior catcher Landen Colson had high praise for the only high school coach he’s ever had.

“I met him when I was in seventh grade and he was an assistant coach,” he said. “He always told me I was going to play for him. … He’s come to my house a couple of times, and I’ve been over to his house and played with his kids. He’s got great kids.

“He’s just a great guy. He’s been like a second father to me.”

With players like Colson, Cope may not have had to do as much “coaching” this season, but that’s because in his fifth year with the Wildcats his players know the expectations.

That’s especially true for the group of seniors, who went through the transitional period of Cope introducing more of his own coaching style in his second season in charge.

“Those guys … as ninth-graders, I brought them up,” he said. “That year I implemented some of the things I picked up at (Southern Arkansas). If you looked at our practices, they were practically identical to the ones at SAU. …

“And the biggest thing was we got (the Wildcats) to buy into what we were doing.”

Colson said Cope’s approach to coaching is “exactly what a college coach would do,” something that has prepared him for what it will be like when he starts playing at Arkansas Tech next year.

“Everything he does comes from his college experience,” he said. “In practice, he has you do everything you can to get better, and it makes us better.

“If he needs to, he will get on to you, but he picks you up right after.”

Cope said things like that are just part of coaching, but that it always comes down to how the players themselves perform.

“Sometimes as a coach you get more credit or blame than I think you should,” he said. “For me, I think I get a lot more credit than I deserve. It’s the kids that make you look good.

“They came together like a family. That’s what it boils down to me.”