A Legacy of LeadershipSep 01, 2021 ● By Allie Spletter
Few people can say that they had a front-row seat in seeing all that Frisco ISD has become over the last 20-plus years, However, David Kuykendall – “Coach K” as he is fondly called – not only had those prime seats, but also played an integral role in growing and developing the district’s athletic programs by creating a legacy of leadership.
From the time he became Frisco ISD’s athletic director in 1993, Coach K made it a point to surround himself with people of high integrity, character, sportsmanship, hard work and love, which allowed him to lead the district with grace, humility and persistence while maintaining a tradition of excellence. As humble as they come, he is the first to give credit for his and the district’s athletic successes to those who have worked for and with him (“the boots on the ground,” as he calls them).
Although he recently retired from the district, the culture he helped build within its athletic department will likely withstand the test of time as his legacy continues to help shape the lives of other coaches as well as young people.
The son of a coach and a teacher, Coach K grew up playing several sports. “I never just played football or just played baseball – I did all of them,” he recalls. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas, he went on to play football at Texas Tech University on a scholarship and stayed on as a graduate assistant coach.
His high school coaching career began in 1977 at MacArthur High School in Irving where he was assistant coach before taking his first head-coaching position in Italy, Texas. “It was 2A (school), and back in those days I only had five people that were assistant coaches for all of the sports, middle and high school. I wasn’t used to how small it was, but it was so neat,” Coach K says. From there, he went to Red Oak High School in Ellis County before coming to Frisco ISD in 1993 to serve as head football coach and athletic director.
Back then, Dr. Justin Wakeland was the district’s superintendent and Dr. Rick Reedy was his “right-hand guy,” Coach K recalled. “Dr. Reedy had a lot to do with me coming to Frisco. When I got here, we struggled a bit and then hit our stride, so for the last four years or so I coached, we made the playoffs every year. I loved it,” he says. “Back in those days it was a one-school town. … The whole town shut down and came to football games.”
Frisco ISD Assistant Athletic Director Jerry Littlejohn coached on Coach K’s staff during those early years before moving into a leadership role. “I feel like I was so fortunate that I got to work with him on his staff,” Mr. Littlejohn says. “I don’t feel like I worked a day the entire time I was coaching with him. …That’s how great he made his staff feel, how close we were and how much we enjoyed being at work together.” The experience “sold me on Coach K and showed me what kind of leader he was and just how good he was with people.”
Throughout the mid- to late 1990s, Frisco grew to the point where more schools were needed. In 1999, Coach K was presented an opportunity to serve as athletic director for Frisco High School and FISD’s new Centennial High School campus. “That was kind of a big deal because I knew that if I didn’t jump on that AD job that it might not come back around again,” he says. His responsibility was rooted in hiring coaches and building a culture for FISD Athletics as the city and the district continued to grow. “I took hiring the coaches on as truly the most important job that one could do. Yes, it’s cool we have the facilities we do, but if you don’t have the right people in the right positions then things can go south in a hurry. So really that’s been the thing that I’ve tried to hang my hat on all the way through to retirement.”
Dr. Reedy believes Coach K has been the focal point of building a brand for the athletic department. “He established the culture and climate for the athletic department. Even before we started growing rapidly, his personal qualities interfaced with his professional qualities, and that’s what established the climate in the district. He’s a humble, decent, kind person and he wanted the athletic department to reflect those kinds of personal values. He didn’t have to preach about it a lot, it was just the way he treated people every day. … He was always positive and he always looked for a solution that helped everyone. He always considered with great
sensitivity the needs of everyone involved. … He is just the quality of person you have to have to build an athletic program the way Frisco’s was built.”
Both of Dr. Reedy’s sons were coached by Coached K. As a father, he says his boys experienced firsthand the care, compassion and leadership the coach offered to student-athletes. He also often attended their collegiate football games. “He wasn’t through with you when you were through with Frisco schools,” Dr. Reedy says.
Reflecting on his Frisco ISD career, Coach K says he’s most proud of the culture that’s been built within its athletic department. “There’s a culture for Reedy softball, there’s a culture for Heritage volleyball … but I think we’ve established a culture for the whole district in regard to what our expectations are and what we’re looking for.”
Over the years, he says, “I’ve done everything I can do to surround myself with good people whether that’s in the office, whether it’s hiring head coaches. … They’re the boots on the ground and I’m just so proud of every single one of them. If you want to know why we have any success or why anybody thinks the district has such a positive reputation, it’s because of those people.”
Frisco ISD athletic programs have withstood and thrived amid the cyclical ups and downs that are often associated with school sports. “Since we started the process in 2003, when Centennial was first built, we’ve had 23 state championships and nine runners up to the state titles, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We turned out to be pretty competitive,” Coach K says.
As the district grew, he and its coaches traversed a new normal together. Frisco High School Head Volleyball Coach and Assistant Campus Coordinator Janie Litchford has coached and taught at Frisco High School since 1986. “Anything you ever needed … Coach K made time for you. He was never too busy to not help you with your program or whatever you might need. … His allegiance to FISD will be there even though he’s retired. We’ll be excited to see him because we know he’ll be at our games and we’ll be so happy about that.”
As with any career, Coach K has experienced challenges – most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says was one of the biggest hurdles he faced during his years on the job. He applauds the efforts of his coaching assistants Jerry Littlejohn, Grace McDowell and Chris Burtch during that time, calling them “rock stars. … I’m so proud of the staff I had and I’m so proud of the leadership at those high school campuses and the middle school campuses,” he says.
Although 2020-2021 was a year of ups and downs, Mr. Littlejohn says Coach K’s leadership allowed them to meet the needs of coaches and students. “He really allowed us to focus on … keeping our kids safe and making sure our coaches were safe and sound mentally and in a good place, and that their families were taken care of.”
Despite the challenges and growing pains, Coach K’s time with Frisco ISD yielded countless memories, opportunities, highlights and accomplishments. “When I was coaching, any time we could beat Gainesville or Sanger in anything, it was a big deal,” he says. “We were all one-school towns, so we had some big rivalries with those guys.” One of his best football memories was when Lone Star took on Lake Dallas during the semi-finals in 2015 in a game that went into double overtime.
Coach K points to his faith as the force that motivates him. “I’m on this Earth to bring leadership into buildings and into the district, and it’s what makes the district special. I don’t know why God sent me to Italy or why he sent me to Red Oak or Frisco, but I believe all of it was preparation for what we’ve done here over the years.” He says it “takes a village to raise those kids, and coaches and teachers and administrators and counselors all have to wrap arms around those kids along with their parents (and) guardians and they need help now more than ever before. … The kids need us, and the responsibility to hire the right people to come in and help with that is a big deal.”
At the end of each school year, Coach K and his staff honored FISD’s head coaches and coaches in recognition of their achievements. In May, surrounded by his staff, coaches past and present, colleagues, friends, family members and district leaders, Coach K was surprised by the announcement that Frisco ISD’s Memorial Stadium, at 6927 Stadium Lane, would be renamed David Kuykendall Stadium. He says he “still can’t get over” having received the honor. “I accept it to represent every one of the people I’ve been associated with. … None of it was me. It’s because of every person I’ve hired.”
Heading into retirement, Coach K admits that he doesn’t know exactly what his plans are. He and his wife, Karol, hope to travel. He would like to play golf and visit with old friends. He has already alerted Frisco ISD campus coordinators that he’ll be a fixture at practices and games.
“I told them, ‘Guys, you’ll look up and I’ll be down there in the end zone watching practice, or you’ll look over at the volleyball net and there I’ll be,’” he says. “The neatest thing will be that … I’ll just be there supporting them and loving them. I’ve invested too much time in getting those people in here to all of the sudden just say ‘I’m out.’”
Allie Spletter is a freelance writer and former Frisco ISD coach whose career was profoundly impacted by Coach K’s leadership. She is proud to call him a friend.