Phil Danaher became the winningest coach in Texas high school football history last season.

By Mike Craven, FNF Coaches Contributor

Phil Danaher has done a lot of winning. He’s reached two state championship games, including the Class 5A Division II state championship in 2016, which Calallen lost to Aledo. He also reached it in 2005. He became the winningest coach in Texas high school football history last season. He’s won 427 games and counting.

Phil Danaher attended a coaching clinic at 21 years old and it changed his path forever.

At that clinic, a college coach stressed the importance of setting goals. Danaher, a young coach at the time, went directly to his hotel room and wrote down personal goals and professional goals. Decades later, Danaher has accomplished nearly everything written on that piece of paper.

“Personally, I wanted to be a good father, make sure my kids got an education, played sports, made all-star teams and played in college. I also wanted to be a good husband and a man of God,” he remembers. “Professionally, I wanted to be a head coach by 24 and a head coach at a big school by 35. The only thing I didn’t accomplish on that piece of paper was winning a state championship.”

“I’m proud of our accomplishments here at Calallen. I came here in 1984 and we’ve been in the playoffs every year since 1985. We had a winning record in that first year, but only one team from each district made the playoffs back then,” he said. “The record brought a lot of recognition to this school and the area.”

Yet, he won’t take too much credit. He’s turned down a Hall of Fame induction in the past because “I hadn’t accomplished anything when they asked a few years ago. I told them to wait until I had a record or a championship.” He openly gives a bulk of his team’s credit to players and assistant coaches.

“I’ve never taken a snap in my coaching career,” he said. “This record wasn’t about me. We earned this record because of my players and all the great assistant coaches who came through here. Those coaches worked just as hard as I did.”

Sports were always the backbone for Danaher. His father passed away when he was two years old and credits his high school coaches for his career. It’s also shaped the way he’s viewed the importance of team competition.

“My coaches kept me in line and made sure I had what I needed with my father being gone. I see myself in a lot of these kids. Coaches can make a great impact on young people. I’ve learned in my years that the kid might need athletics more than athletics needs a kid. Things aren’t as black and white for me now as when I started coaching,” he admits.

A good coach evolves. The kids Danaher coaches are different than the ones he coached at the beginning of his career. Football has changed, too. It would’ve been easy for Danaher to stay the strict, drill-sergeant he says he was at the beginning of his career. He’s softened, at least a little bit.

“We can’t give up on kids when they have nothing else going on in life,” Danaher said. “I try to understand where a kid comes from now. It’s not, ‘oh, he broke a rule so he’s gone’ anymore. I try to look at the wider picture and remember where I was as a young person at their age. I’m more flexible in my attitude now.”

Danaher still believes in running the football and playing strong defense. His teams are intense and disciplined. It’s a representation of their coach, the one who wrote down his goals at 21.

“I put that list in a drawer and my wife found it 30 years later. It’s amazing what you accomplish when you’re working towards something, even subconsciously,” he said. “I instill that in our players. I make them write down goals and then we try to go achieve them.”

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About the author

Dan Guttenplan