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'Working with kids who want to be successful' keeps Danaher going four decades into coaching

Calallen football coach Phil Danaher is winningest coach in Texas high school football history
Calallen football Phil Danaher.jpg
Posted at 12:05 PM, Aug 18, 2021

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Phil Danaher is entering his 38th season as the head football coach of the Calallen Wildcats. Under Danaher, the Wildcats have gone to the playoffs 36 straight seasons, missing the postseason only in his first year as head coach there.

Wildcat defensive coordinator Steve Campbell has been with Danaher since his first season in Calallen. Campbell said consistency is what has helped the Calallen program be so good for so long.

“There just hasn’t been a lot of change, and so we have a program, and that’s what Coach Danaher wanted to establish way back when he got the job," Campbell said. "He instilled that in us, to coach fundamentally, teach them all the fundamentals of the game, and be consistent."

In his career, Danaher has racked up 480 victories at three different schools, making him the winningest coach in Texas high school football history.

“I think he’s kind of a legend across the state of Texas," Campbell said. "If you’re going to be the winningest coach in the state of Texas, then everybody kind of knows the Phil Danaher name, and his accomplishments."

Everyone in Calallen district knows who Danaher is, and for good reason. Senior quarterback Terik Hickmon came to the school district in the sixth grade. He said he quickly learned of the legend of Coach Danaher, and after playing for him, realizes why the coach is so storied.

“He’s that guy,” Hickmon said, “but he’s super nice and a humble guy.”

Hickmon echoed that Danaher focuses on fundamentals at practice, but also said he preaches hard work and teamwork to his players.

“Don’t be about yourself, be about the team, and just work together, every game, every practice,” Hickmon said.

Danaher is from the Rio Grande Valley and grew up in Harlingen. So, what keeps a guy from the valley at a program in the Coastal Bend?

“Because we keep winning,” Danaher chuckled. “As long as we keep winning, we’re gonna stay.”

But it’s not just winning that keeps Danaher coming to the field every day almost 40 years in. It's the opportunity to have an influence in the lives of every player who puts on the Wildcat uniform.

“Mainly, working with the young boys who want to be successful," Danaher said. "When you get them like that, and they believe in themselves, and they believe in their teammates, it sure makes a big difference."

Campbell said it’s perhaps his competitiveness that keeps him going.

“He’s extremely competitive. It doesn’t matter if it’s in football, or card games, checkers, or chess, he hates to lose," his longtime assistant said. "He’s probably the most competitive person I’ve ever been around."

After coaching for so long, Danaher has seen second-generation players come through his program.

“I’ve coached some that I’ve coached their dad, and that was good," Danaher said with a laugh. "I enjoyed doing that. I’m alright as long as I’m not up to the grandsons yet."

It’s not always serious with Danaher as he does like to joke around with his players.

“He’s always having fun. He likes to joke around and stuff," Hickmon said. "From a first glance, that’s hard to tell, but he’s a jokester."

Danaher said he likes to keep things light when he needs to, and will joke with his players to lighten the mood when he needs to.

“It’s fun being with the kids, and the kids, I think, enjoy being with me,” he said.

As he prepares to enter year 38 at Calallen, Danaher said he has no plans of passing the torch anytime soon.

“I get asked that a lot, when am I going to retire? I don’t think I really want to any time soon, because as long as we can make a difference in kids’ lives, why retire?” he said.

Danaher and the Wildcats open their season on Aug. 27, traveling to Gregory-Portland.