Germantown's legendary football coach says 'time is now'
This season the last for Warhawks' Datka
Teacher, administrator, good citizen, mentor, husband and dad.
The hats that Germantown's Phil Datka has worn over the years have always been numerous and he always has carried them off with dignity and integrity - if not always with a sense of fashion.
And at the end of this football season, he's going to have one less to wear as, after 41 years on the sidelines with Germantown, Datka will officially retire as Warhawks coach.
"All of my coaching friends have told me that I will know when 'it is time,' " he said in a letter to the school administrators sent last week. "And I feel, for me, that 'time' is now."
And though Datka is comfortable with his decision, some of those who know him believe that "time" still is coming too soon.
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"My respect and admiration for Phil Datka has never diminished but only grown over the years. Today I'm 54 years old and feel a great debt to him. He's a wonderful person. Thanks, Coach Datka! Your influence in the lives of people will not end in retirement, but will continue in on the lives of the generations of people you've impacted."
- Lew Potter, quarterback of the undefeated 1973 and 1974 Scenic Moraine Conference champions coached by Datka.
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Well known for his inspiring career, which includes two state titles, eight conference championships and innumerable exciting finishes, Datka was also famous for sending out birthday cards to and attending the weddings of former players on a regular basis. He founded and has kept going a scholarship golf outing each spring that has helped sustain a fund that has benefited many ex-players as they continue in higher education.
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"Coach Datka was my second father. No, I wasn't a starter for him, but he inspired me to enter the field of education. Several years later, Coach Datka served as a key reference for me as I became the head football coach at Alexander Hamilton High School in Milwaukee. To this day, I make a point to e-mail and talk to him with every chance I get. He taught me what hard work is and also what can happen as a result."
- Jeff Wallack, head football coach of Hamilton High School and member of the Germantown Class of 1990
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Datka also earned the respect of many of his competitors, foremost among them being Homestead head coach Dave Keel. Keel, a highly successful coach in his own right with three state titles to his credit, likes to joke that he was "a failure" when he first started out as a freshman "B" coach at Germantown in 1976 when he was just a student teacher.
"I volunteered for the job and we went 1-6 and I think he (Datka) fired me on the spot ," said Keel said with a laugh.
"He is my mentor in so many ways in football," Keel continued with all seriousness. "I'm happy for Phil. He's had an outstanding career. He's really set the standard for us in the North Shore and he's done it with integrity, commitment and class. Things we can all aspire to.
"Our best games have always been the ones with Germantown."
Look through the archives and that is true, from the heart-stopping Warhawks upset of the North Shore Conference champion Highlanders in 1991 to the "look what I found" miracle fumble recovery for a score last fall that allowed Homestead to escape another Germantown upset attempt.
Fitting enough, Germantown's last regular-season game this fall is at Homestead on Oct. 20.
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"He was a straight up guy. You always knew where you stood with Phil. He never bragged. He just did his job and his kids absolutely loved him. What he said, you could always believe. He did a fantastic job. One of the better coaches (in state history)."
- Bob Hessler, longtime Menomonee Falls coach and an inductee into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
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And Datka was always engaged in a wider view as his impact extended well beyond just the locker room or playing field. He always knew younger eyes were watching him to.
"I remember when I was managing the team back in fourth grade and we were heading up to a game in Mayville (in the old Scenic Moraine) and it could get pretty rough going up there," said Jerry Vance, quarterback of the 1979 state finals team. "He told the guys to wear their helmets as they got off the bus because they (the Mayville fans) might throw things at them.
"And he gave this great pregame speech. (He said) that on the very first play he wanted the guys to give the most maximum effort possible. Just really smack them and then Chris Canter goes out and runs something like 80 yards for a touchdown right on that first play. That's how he could inspire people."
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"Phil Datka introduced himself to me when I was in sixth grade after a baseball game. I was playing for the Germantown Recreation Department. I didn't know who he was and he didn't introduce himself as the new football coach. He just wanted to congratulate me for a great game."
- Lew Potter
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Traits like that continue in the man to this very day as accolades and tributes pour in. He is torn between seeing his three grandchildren on a more regular basis and waiting for that next truly great class of players to come along.
He jokes that when his wife Mary, a well-respected and longtime village of Menomonee Falls employee finally retires, he'll have to find another job. And when next August rolls around and practice starts and he won't be there, he says he'll have to find another way to stay out of the refrigerator.
And he will be missed.
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"Coach Datka was a man who showed me responsibility and integrity and how to treat others on and off the field. …It's really kind of sad. I know how many kids he's been able to influence, but there are so many of them coming up who won't be able to get that from him."
- Jerry Vance
A look back
Highlights of Phil Datka's coaching career at Germantown
1969: Lost his first six games but finished the season with back-to-back wins over Pewaukee and Campbellsport
1971: Recorded his first winning record at 7-2.
1973-1974: Recorded 18 straight wins in a row in winning back-to-back Scenic Moraine Conference titles.
1979: Wins Scenic Moraine title and earns first state title game berth only to have his team lose in the snow to Beaver Dam.
1984: Claims a share of a Braveland Conference divisional title at 6-3. Datka's linebacker son, Doug, sets a still-standing school record with four interceptions in a 32-0 win over Brown Deer.
1990: Named CNI (NOW) Newspapers Coach of the Year after going 8-2 and finishing second in the North Shore Conference to eventual state D2 runnerup Port Washington.
1992: Despite having his starting quarterback injured late in the season, leads his team to a WIAA D2 state semifinal berth, where they lose to eventual champion Monroe.
1996: Modern era of success begins when at midseason, Datka swaps eventual two-time all-state lineman Terry Stephan from center to tackle and the team makes another deep run in the playoffs, losing to Monroe in a hotly-contested D2 quarterfinal game. .
1997: Wins North Shore title and advances to state D2 title game behind quarterback Ben Croatt, back Chermond Thomas and Stephan. They fall to Menomonie in the final as injury prevents Stephan's title game participation. Croatt's game-winning TD pass to Tom Galle in epic snowy state semifinal win over Portage is considered one of the greatest plays in school history.
1998: Late-season tragedy as one of Germantown's players is responsible for a fatal traffic accident. Team goes on to win Datka's first state title with win over Ashwaubenon. Datka is inducted into Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
2000: Despite mid-season injury to all-conference quarterback Jeff Holzbauer, Warhawks claim share of North Shore title as sophomore backup David Pietrowiak throws four TD passes in NSC championship win over Whitefish Bay.
2002: In maybe the best season in North Shore football history, Warhawks share title with Homestead and Cedarburg. Warhawks eventually make state D2 semifinals.
2003: "Team of Destiny" achieves its goal, getting vengeance for two previous playoff defeats to Menomonie with a decisive state D2 championship win. Physical and talented squad overcomes injuries to key defensive performers and sets a D2 title game record for rushing yards. Loses in the last-second to Homestead in regular season finale, in what is by far and away considered the best game ever in the two teams long and storied rivalry. Refurbished stadium renamed for Datka.
2007: Team finishes only 5-4 in regular season but goes on surprising run in D2 playoffs beating Sussex Hamilton, Brookfield Central and Waterford to advance to state semifinal round.
2009: Longtime coaching assistant and friend Gary Soike inducted into WFCA Hall of Fame.
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