By Mike Craven, FNF Coaches Contributing Writer
Coaching Profile: Whitney Keeling
School: Waskom (TX)
When Whitney Keeling took over the Waskom program prior to the 2010 season, one of the first events he put together was a fundraising effort.
In an attempt to get his players involved in the community, Keeling sent them into town in their gameday jerseys, going door-to-door.
“One of the players said, ‘Coach, we’d be more successful if we weren’t wearing our football jersey,’” Keeling recalled. “And that really stuck with me because he had no pride, and that wasn’t necessarily any fault of his own. That was the mindset of all of them.”
Before Keeling’s arrival, there were certain stigmas attached to the Waskom football program. And none of them were very positive.
“It was a dormant program,” said Keeling, a native East Texan who grew up in Kilgore. “You couldn’t win there, nobody cares about it. Sometimes you want to take on those challenges as a coach, and sometimes you don’t.”
Luckily for both Keeling and the community of Waskom, the young coach jumped at the opportunity.
“There were a lot of factors,” Keeling said of his decision to pursue the job. “The first was I wanted to be a head coach, and it’s tough. That’s one thing in our profession: when a job opens up, there’s always 100-150 applicants for it. So to even get a head coaching job is extremely tough.”
Fast forward six years, and Waskom has become a legitimate state power at the Class 3A level.
Since 2013, the Wildcats are 45-2, winning the 3A Division II championships in 2014 and 2015. Even more impressive, Keeling owns a 16-1 playoff record.
“At one of the banquets I was asked to speak at, someone came up to me and said, ‘do you realize that you’d have to lose every playoff game for the next 15 years for you to be .500 (in the playoffs)?’ I almost want to pinch myself sometimes and ask myself if this is really happening,” Keeling said. “Wow, life’s been really good to me.”
Despite the meteoric rise, Keeling is quick to deflect attention away from himself.
“The head coach gets all the recognition, but I feel like that it’s been a total program,” he said. “We’ve had success in basketball, and we’ve had success in track. And to watch these kids achieve not only their individual goals but team goals as well, it’s been miraculous.”