State charges have been filed against a Hall of Fame high school football coach in Oklahoma after his players accused him of fostering a “cult-like environment” riddled with racism, toxic masculinity and degrading abuse.
After a lengthy investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Ringling High School head coach Phillip Koons was charged Tuesday with violating public decency. If convicted, he could face up to a year in prison and hundreds of dollars in fines.
According to the football team’s players, they were harassed during practice and in the locker room by the coaching staff with demeaning comments, claiming that he was their “daddy” and that they should consult him before ever speaking to their own parents.
“These boys were exposed to a cult-like environment where this guy cultivated them, brought them down to the point where they wanted to stop playing football, some of them wanted to commit suicide, and then built them back up again. “Move up in this cult system and get a deal in which he was the most important thing in their lives,” Tod Mercer, one of the players’ lawyers, told The Daily Beast. “He would isolate her from her friends, from her family and even from her doctors.”
Along with attorney Cameron Spradling, Mercer explained that Koons would emotionally destroy his players with insults, calling black players on the team the N-word, “porch monkey” and “stupid African.”
Koons is also listed on the Ringling Public Schools District website as principal of Ringling High School. According to Mercer, Koon’s wife is the school counselor, along with other family members who fill additional positions. His sons, Cooper and Sterling, are assistant football coaches, Mercer said.
“Ringling Public Schools… they have created this culture of abuse, harassment and intimidation of their players for years. … Assault, physical abuse and psychological torture were just part of her unofficial curriculum in the athletic department,” Spradling told The Daily Beast. “It’s an environment that’s like that Lord of the flies.”
Mercer provided The Daily Beast with a list of statements from a soccer player about his time on Koons’ team.
“Phil Koons and Sterling Koons made racist comments about their teammates during football training[,] calling a player a porch monkey, n—–, African and Jigaboo,” one of the statements reads. “That hurt, considering you could clearly see how upset the player was. The player also came to me and expressed that he felt addressed and highlighted by his skin color.”
Along with racial slurs, Koons allegedly made fun of the players’ weight, called some of the teens “fat motherfuckers” and told them to “cut the twinks,” according to the player’s statements. He also allegedly referred to the town’s residents as “inbred” and consistently called the students “fuck-ups” and “fucking idiots.”
According to the statements, he also made fun of people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
Koons allegedly used homophobic slurs toward his players and those of opposing teams, repeatedly using anti-LGBTQ slurs.
“No group of society was immune from his attacks,” Mercer said. “He would attack and insult women. All races.”
Koons allegedly had inappropriate conversations with players about their romantic relationships and demeaned girls who dated several players on the team as “sloppy seconds.”
“This got to the point where Phil, Sterling and Cooper even began naming football games after girls at school who had current or past relationships with a player on the team,” the player said in a statement.
In another statement from the player, Koons was accused of having openly sexual conversations with his sons (his assistant coaches) about teachers and media personnel who would cover the team during practices and games.
“Phil Koons, Cooper Koons and Sterling Koons talked about teachers[’] Tits, ass, body and many other humiliating things as we encouraged each other what it was like in front of our eyes [a] “It’s cool that your coaches talk about your teachers like that,” the statement said.
In one case, coaches forced players to do burpees naked in the locker room.
“[Koons] would often grab his trash and tell them, “You don’t have the guts to play for me.” “You have to be a man to play for me,” Mercer said.
The players’ legal team plans to list Cooper and Sterling as co-defendants in a civil rights lawsuit against Koons.
“I have struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts because of Phil Koons, Sterling Koons and Cooper Koons,” the player who submitted the statements wrote in a closing statement. “I would dread going to training any day because of the way they treated me and the rest of the team. … Phil preached that he was just going to make us men and toughen us up and he was going to make us leaders. …Being up there was like being brainwashed and conditioned every day that it was normal and that we didn’t have to go to our parents because they would just tell us what we wanted to hear and not tell us anymore would make it harder. I wouldn’t wish this kind of treatment on any child.”
Allegations about Koons’ behavior were first raised before he was hired by the Ringling Board of Education in 2018, Mercer said. He explained that Koons had a controversial past – even though he was a Oklahoma Football Hall of Fame Coach – where he allegedly practiced similar practices at other schools.
According to a 2016 article Oklahoma City Public AffairsAs the head coach of a previous school, Koons told high school players — after dropping his pants and exposing himself — that they had to have a “dick” to play football.
“There are some coaches who can only create successful programs through threats, intimidation and fear that is instilled in these guys, and they believe that is how they create a successful program,” Spradling said. “We’re talking about Oklahoma football. And as long as a coach has a successful program, we have administrators and education committees willing to move on from the situation. And the victims are these guys.”
Koons accepted the Hall of Fame coaching award in 2022 with the proud words: “It just shows that the kids have accepted my work,” said Koons Central Oklahoma Weekly Newspapers.
When Koons’ contract expired in February 2023, parents brought their concerns to the school board, but it was unanimously extended, according to the local outlet Oklahoma City 4 reported. However, the Oklahoma State Department of Education placed Koons on leave later that month pending a criminal investigation based on parents’ complaints.
Then Koons was rehired in early June, just in time for football season, Mercer said, claiming the school board prioritized a winning football team over student safety.
“There’s really no question about that,” he said.
“[Koons] is simply who he is, and [the board] “I knew it when they hired him,” Spradling added. “They just wanted to have a successful program and they got that, but they left a lot of damaged guys behind.”
Ringling Public Schools did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Wednesday, and Koons’ legal team declined to comment.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK Send 741741.