Ardmore High School’s search for a new girls basketball coach ended with a recommendation by a familiar name from the program’s rich history.

Debra Manley, who took Class 5A Hebron in Texas to the playoffs in her only year at the helm, will take over the Lady Tigers after the departure of Kevin Kelly.

“She’s had a lot of success at several different places,” Ardmore athletic director Doug Wendel said. “She came highly recommended from former coach Cliff Cotton. She worked with him for a time at Sherman.”

Cotton gave Manley high praise, which meant a lot to Wendel, considering Cotton won a state title at Ardmore in 1993. Manley also worked at Clarksville and Pittsburg before taking over at Hebron.

“She’s had success throughout her career,” Wendel said. 

Cotton’s team went 26-2 the year they won the championship with a 43-39 win in the title game over Tulsa Central.

That year, the Tigers won state in football, boys basketball and girls basketball, becoming the first school in the state’s history to accomplish all three in the same school year.

Manley led Hebron (14-11, 5-5 in District 5-5A) to a third-place finish in district and the program’s first postseason appearance since 2009.

“She took a program that didn’t do much over the past decade and made the playoffs in her first year,” Wendel said. “That was impressive. She comes across as an all-in coach that lives it. She loves kids and lives the game. We need that to move forward. I’m excited to see what she can do with not only our basketball program but with our girls athletics in general. 

“I look forward to getting her thoughts on how to enhance and build up the Christmas tournament a little bit.”

Manley grew up in Comanche and once her husband retired from coaching football, she was eager to return closer to her hometown, which was another plus for Wendel, who was looking for a long-term commitment.

“This is something I feel like could be a long-term solution to our girls basketball program,” Wendel said.

The new head coach will also help with one other girls sport, which will most likely be track. 

In the ‘90s, Cotton worked hard to cultivate interest in the program by reaching out to the elementary and middle schools in Ardmore.

Wendel said he expects Manley to do the same to get the program back to its state-title-winning past.

“She has a lot of interest in a vertical alignment,” Wendel said. “With the middle school, which we always need to improve upon. And, getting involved with Little Dribblers down at the kindergarten age, all the way up throughout the entire time going through the school district. That’s something I think that can help our basketball program as well.”