Remembering Coach Jerry Daniels

Commentary

Then-Payson High varsity baseball coach Jerry Daniels poses with 2007 Arizona Baseball Coaches Association All-Stars Jake Willis (left) and Jason Sweet.

Then-Payson High varsity baseball coach Jerry Daniels poses with 2007 Arizona Baseball Coaches Association All-Stars Jake Willis (left) and Jason Sweet. |

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I didn’t know Jerry Daniels in 1971 when I enrolled in “Theory of Coaching Football” at Arizona State University.

But what I learned in that class from legendary coach Bill Kajikawa, the father of Sun Devil sports, helped me better appreciate Jerry when he and I first became friends in the mid-1980s.

Kajikawa, a professor emeritus at ASU, World War II hero and former ASU star athlete and coach, wrapped up the summer school class with a profound presentation called “What makes a good Coach.”

What Kajikawa told our class 43 years ago, sums up Jerry’s coaching philosophy.

He believed good coaches:

Don’t use embarrassment and humiliation as “teaching tools.”

Are great life teachers.

Keep the games in perspective.

Do not get their egos tied up in outcomes.

Understand individual differences in their athletes.

Coach the person, not just the athlete.

Challenge their athletes to do better and push their limits.

Are passionate about what they do.

In Jerry’s more than two decades of teaching and coaching football, basketball and baseball he was all that and more.

Jerry died July 9, 2014 in Payson after battling cancer for 1 1/2 years.

In 1994, Jerry took over the reins of the Lady Longhorn basketball team and led it to some of the finest seasons in the history of the program.

At the time, Jerry shrugged off any accolades he received saying, “There are some very special people who volunteered hundreds of hours helping build the girls basketball program.”

Among his off the court accomplishments was founding the Holiday Hoops tournament in the mid-1990s. While its beginnings were modest, it morphed into one of the finest holiday tournaments in the state, drawing prep teams of all school size classifications from around Arizona.

For Jerry and his players, the 1997-98 season was a dream year.

Led by seniors Amberlyn White, Erin Dahlman, Molly Hunt and others, the Lady Horns stampeded through the Central Division posting a 12-0 region record, 23-5 overall.

A disheartening 47-41 state semifinal loss to eventual state champion Snowflake ended Payson’s spirited run.

The defeat was a nightmare of a game in which Payson’s very talented front line was bottled up down low and the once highly accurate three-point shooters misfired.

Following the loss, Jerry admitted “it was a bitter pill to swallow” but never allowed his disappointment to be evident to players and fans.

A season earlier, the unthinkable happened when one of the Lady Horns’ finest players, Mandi Mercer, went down with a knee injury that ended her season.

Jerry was devastated telling me years later, “That was one of my greatest sorrows.”

During Jerry’s tenure as Lady Horn basketball coach he won coach of the year region honors and led Payson to four consecutive state tournaments — a mark that has yet to be equaled.

When retiring in 2000, he encouraged the players to carry on the dream of a state crown saying, “I know with some hard work and dedication, there is a state championship out there for you.

“Go get it.”

After arriving on the PHS campus in the late 1980s, Jerry quickly assumed the baseball junior varsity head coaching position under varsity coach Teddy Pettet.

He continued to hone fledgling players until 2004 when Pettet resigned and Jerry took over as varsity coach.

Jerry’s teams were traditionally very competitive but his finest group might have been the 2008 squad that shared the East Region championship with the Show Low Cougars.

The team advanced to the state tournament where it was eliminated in a gut-wrenching 1-0 extra innings loss to Chino Valley.

Following the season, Jerry was named the East Region “Coach of the Year.”

The coach, however, remained close-mouthed about the honor deferring the attention to the players — Ridge Halenar, Tyler Savage, Hunter Haynes, Ever Figueroa, Anthony Pearce and Weston Gibson — who had been voted to the All-East team.

In Jerry’s later years, he brought on his son, David, as assistant coach. David had earlier starred in baseball at PHS and played collegiately in Tennessee.

Coaching was always a family affair because Jerry’s wife Darlene, had volunteered to be team scorekeeper since the early 1970s when Jerry coached at Miami and even before that in Tucson.

One family affair scene played out during a state playoff game in Surprise Stadium.

While Jerry was flashing signals to his players, an opposing coach was deciphering them from the first base dugout. David picked up on what was going on and quickly cautioned his father to stop or change the signals.

Darlene, noticing the banter between the two, politely urged David to cease arguing and show respect to his father.

Almost comically, David turned to his mom, smiled and replied, “I do respect him, if I didn’t I would have let that coach keep stealing his signs.”

I glanced at Jerry and he too cracked a grin.

Jerry’s coaching expertise was not limited to basketball and baseball. He was also a highly respected football coach who had led Miami to the 1972 state championship.

During Jerry’s hospitalization, as he fought against cancer, some of his former Vandal players stopped by to wish him well, said David.

Jerry began his football career in Payson coaching in the local youth league, but quickly moved to the high school.

He and David co-coached the freshmen during Steve Saban’s tenure as head coach. The father and son eventually moved on to the varsity ranks where the pair served as Wing-T offensive coordinators for Jerry Rhoades.

Obviously, Jerry Daniels enjoyed a commendable coaching career at Payson High but it wasn’t without challenges.

Like every other PHS coach has dealt with, there were some hullabaloos involving administrators and parents, but Jerry is remembered for handling each scruff with class and dignity.

“He always held his head high,” David remembers.

Clearly, Jerry was devoted to both teaching and coaching, but his personal focus always remained on his beloved family including Darlene, David, Melissa and sons D.J., Derek, Daren and four grandchildren.

A celebration of Coach Daniels’ life will be held at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, July 19 at the Mountain Bible Church.

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