You may have heard that a renowned softball coach joined the Collegiate staff back in 2015. You may have heard of Collegiate softball’s increased success in the past two years. You may have even noticed Collegiate softball players walking around the Robins campus with t-shirts exclaiming “It’s a Phenomenon!” But many people at Collegiate still haven’t met the man behind these changes.
Keith Daniels, known as “Coach D” to his players, is the man who made all this happen.
Daniels was born in 1949 in southern Virginia to his fireman father and stay-at-home mother. He was one of seven children, and in his own words, he grew up “pretty hard.” His family struggled to make ends meet, but Daniels insists that his childhood was crucial in making him the man he is today.
“We did the best we could,” Daniels recalls. “I wore hand-me-downs, sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat, but my mother and father taught us more than what people consider valuable. They taught us the importance of human relationships. I look back on it now, and I’m glad I went through it. It was tough. Then when I got out on my own, I had more than I ever did when I was a kid, and that taught me to appreciate a lot.”
As a teenager, Daniels built decks and did yard work to supplement his family’s income, but his true passions were athletics and teaching. He knew he wanted to be a teacher and a coach as early as his junior year of high school. In his own words, he was “never the best student,” and he knew that athletics were his “last shot” at getting into college. After graduation, he entered the workforce before later being offered a football scholarship at Virginia State University and graduating with honors.
Later in life, Daniels joined the United States Army and enrolled in drill sergeant school. He claims, “I wasn’t very smart, so I had to have structure. I loved the structure in the Army.” When asked if he would make the decision to enter the Army again, Daniels replied, “One of the proudest moments in my life was graduating second in my class in drill sergeant school. I don’t have much now, but I don’t regret it. I’d do it again.” In fact, he loved the Army so much that he considered staying, but in his own words, “I wanted to teach, and I wanted to coach, so I got out.” After the Army, Daniels returned to school, got his degree in education, and began teaching and coaching in the public school system.
When asked why he chooses to coach, Daniels immediately replied, “The relationships with the kids. That right there is more valuable than any amount of money, and that’s why I do it. If I can have something to do with a kid’s positive outcome in their life… that’s the best thing in the world.” He places high value on the players he coaches, and takes great pride in helping others reach their full potential. This message is certainly not lost on his players. Cristina Muncy (‘17) says that, “he definitely has a caring side. He’s like a teddy bear; he just doesn’t really show you sometimes.” Matty Pahren (‘17) describes Daniels as “tough love.” “He’s hard on you, but it’s because at the end of the day he wants you to succeed,” she explains. Ellie Fleming (‘16) remembers Coach Daniels telling her to “step back and clear the mechanism” whenever she was struggling in practice. “It really helped me to have him say that… sometimes I tell myself to ‘clear the mechanism’ when something non-softball related is bothering me,” she states. Morgan Baxter (‘17) explains that Daniels is “invested in the team and in us as individuals. If you want extra help, he wants to help you and help you do better.”
Daniels’ coaching style can be described as direct and unapologetic. He’s had many people in his life say he’s too straightforward, but Daniels prides himself on never sugarcoating anything. “If you don’t want to hear what I truly have to say, don’t ask,” he jokes. “I always tell the truth, and that’s earned me a lot of respect, but it can also get you in trouble. Sometimes I can be over the top, but I wouldn’t change it”. Pahren thinks we can all learn from Daniels’ coaching style. “He’s straightforward, and we’ve learned to take feedback in a different way because of it,” she says. “I think we can all learn how to better respond to people by talking to Coach Daniels”.
Daniels attributes his many successes to what he calls his “5 D’s for Success.” These D’s are desire, discipline, dedication, determination, and decisions. “I never wanted to be average or fail,” Daniels says, “so I had high values. If you live by your values and work hard, you’re going to succeed.” These values are what led him and his teams to hundreds of softball and football victories. And those victories led Daniels to have Monacan High School’s softball field named in his honor.
Human relationships have always been one of Daniels’ top priorities. He especially values the relationships he has with his players. When asked about their favorite Coach Daniels memories, a common reply among all players was one word: phenomenon. This phrase is one of countless ways that Daniels shows pride in his players. Whenever a player makes a play or crushes a line drive after listening to Daniels’ suggestions, he always replies with a loud “IT’S A PHENOMENON!” This phrase is just one way that Daniels maintains healthy relationships with his players at Collegiate.
Outside of softball, Daniels enjoys spending time with his granddaughter and playing poker and golf with his friends.
All photos by Claire Andress (’17).