“Once a Zebra, always a Zebra.”
Though he didn’t play football for the Claremore Zebras, the late Frank Mobra never missed a game and loved ‘bleeding red and white’.
On March 8, the legendary coach and former Claremore High School athletic director passed away at the age of 88.
“He touched many people’s lives, including mine,” said State Farm Agent Robert Vardeman, who played for Frank Mobra at Stilwell and later coached with the legend at Talihina and Claremore. “I lost my dad when I was 8 years old, and Frank became the father figure that I needed in my life.”
Vardeman and close friend and longtime Claremore assistant coach John Smith sat down with the Claremore Daily Progress and reflected on the legacy that spanned over the past 45 years.
Mobra was a man of Character...
Mobra was a man of Integrity...
Mobra was a man that did things the right way, whether coaching, teaching or raising a family...
And, most of all, Mobra was a man that put Family first and coaching second.
“I had a special relationship with Frank, in that I could always read his mind,” Vardeman said.
Vardeman became acquainted with Frank as a teenager playing junior high football and later on at the varsity level in Stilwell, Okla.
Mobra, who was the head football coach at Stilwell from 1957-1964, took Vardeman under his wings and taught him that dreams come true through hard work, dedication and ‘heart’.
“Frank coached 3 of my brothers before me, and by the time, my turn came around (as a sophomore), I wasn’t worth shooting,” Vardeman said. “My junior year, I wasn’t any better. My senior year, we start off 0-5, and Coach Mobra says, ‘Robert, we got to do something.’”
So, a switch to the single-wing meant more production for Vardeman, and eventually wins for Stilwell.
“Coach Mobra asked me if I would play fullback in the single wing,” Vardeman said. “Coach, I’ll do whatever.”
The transition paid off as Vardeman started finding the end zone more and more and Stilwell started getting recognition around the state.
Vardeman added that his success led to scholarship opportunities from Oklahoma, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
Knowing that Coach Mobra played for the University of Arkansas, it only seemed fitting that Vardeman would follow in his coach’s footsteps to Fayetteville.
Vardeman, however, took a different route and chose the Oklahoma Sooners.
“Frank never persuaded me toward Arkansas,” Vardeman said. “I do, however, remember asking him for a favor during my freshman year of spring drills. ... I returned to Stilwell and said ‘Coach, this guy at OU (Bob Ward) is running players off. I’m afraid he’s going to run me off too. Do you think you can call Arkansas and see if Frank Broyles will give me a chance? ... Coach Mobra’s response to me was ‘Robert, get back to Norman and work your tail off. You’re not a quitter.’ ... On Sunday, the Muskogee Phoenix had in the headlines that Bud Wilkinson had fired Bob Ward. I knew then, I could play for OU.”
After a playing career at OU, Vardeman took on an assistant coaching role with Mobra at Talihina and then eventually at Claremore.
“Frank’s second year at Talihina (1966), we won the Class B state championship,” Vardeman said.
Following a four-year stint at Talihina, the Mobra legacy took shape in Claremore.
“Back then, the only thing you did on Friday nights was go to the game,” Vardeman said. “Frank had 105 kids out for football, and the games were exciting. The people really got into it.”
Coach Mobra prided himself into the Zebra athletic program, added Smith.
As the Zebras head coach, Mobra went 53-40-2 and led Claremore to the state playoffs in 1969, 1970 and 1972.
“He was one of those coach’s that let his assistants coach, but in the end, he had the final decision,” Vardeman said. “Also, Frank knew his x’s and o’s. He didn’t have to spend hours watching a lot of film to figure out how to beat a team.”
The thing that Vardeman and Smith both enjoyed about Mobra was his ability to put family first.
“The hardest thing in the world is coaching your own kid,” Vardeman said on Frank coaching his son, Mike at Talihina. “You have to coach your own like anyone else. You can’t show favoritism.”
The legacy of Frank Mobra long lives on in Claremore with the bearing of his name on the ‘Field House’ adjacent to the high school.
“Frank was All-Zebra,” Smith said. “It didn’t make any difference where he was. He loved Claremore High School.”