Before Phil Danaher was the winningest high school coach in this football-crazed state, he was a Harlingen High Cardinal. Prior to being tabbed to lead Corpus Christi Calallen to 445 wins, he said he was motivated by a special coach who he still thanks 51 years later.

Danaher, the current head coach of the Calallen Wildcats and all-time winningest high school football coach in Texas, will be inducted into the RGV Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday at PharrEventsCenter.

He was raised in a single-parent home and said his coaches instilled values and showed him the importance of football.

“My father was killed in an automobile wreck when I was 2 years old,” Danaher said. “Really and truly, the father images that I had were my coaches. Carl Spoonemore, especially. They had such an impact on my life that I felt like I needed to do something for kids.”

In 34 years since being named the Wildcats head coach, Danaher has guided his team to a state-record 445 wins. He broke the record two years ago with a 31-7 win over rival Flour Bluff, his 427th victory.

Danaher still points toward the relationships he’s built as some of his fondest moments. None come close to when he coached his own sons and helped them extend their football careers.

“After I graduated from college, I realized I wanted to get into coaching,” Danaher, an AngeloState grad, said. “I had a lot of paybacks I needed to do. The main thing was that I really wanted to be a good father to my kids. I had two sons and a daughter. Both sons played for me, and my older son went on to play at the University of Texas, and the other got a scholarship to SMU.”

Danaher’s birth certificate says Missouri, but his family moved to Harlingen soon after. He says in the half-century since he was a high schooler, he has come to appreciate the extra effort South Texas schools have to give to compete with large cities.

“Being from the Valley, I will always say I’ve always been proud of the Valley and the Coastal Bend, because years ago both areas didn’t get a whole lot of respect,” Danaher said. “The Valley, and I’ve said this a few million times to the media, has really done a great job coaching. Some of the best coaching in the state of Texas, because they don’t have the Metroplex areas.”

Though a meeting with Calallen usually spells the end of a playoff run for promising Valley programs, Danaher complimented the improvement of the area’s coaches and teams.

“I’ve played a lot of games down there in the Valley, and I’m really proud of the Valley because of the football,” Danaher said. “In the years that I coached, I’ve seen the Valley grow in the coaches and how much difference they’ve made in their programs down there. Because now, they’re doing a lot better — more competitive in all divisions. I take pride in being in the Rio GrandeValley. I really do.”

nmata@themonitor.com