Longtime teacher and coach reflects on his 39-year career
By Steve Breazeale
The 2014 boys golf season is ending in storybook fashion for Dana Hills High School head coach Phil Wilburton.
Before the start of the school year, Wilburton decided that after 39 years of coaching and teaching, the last 25 as the Dolphins varsity coach, he was going to call it quits. It turned out, the final team he would lead is made up mostly of sophomores and juniors.
The young Dolphins caught fire midway through their schedule and finished with a 15-5 overall record, including a first-place 7-1 record in league. The team sent Wilburton off into the sunset with a South Coast League championship and is poised to make a run at the CIF-SS Team Championship later this month.
We caught up with Wilburton to get his thoughts on his career, this current Dolphins squad and his coaching philosophies.
Dana Point Times: What made you decide that 2014 would be the final year of your coaching career?
Phil Wilburton: For me, it seems to be the right time. I have friends that ask me ‘Why are you doing this, you’re still healthy, why don’t you stick with it?’ and for some reason it dawned on me that it was just the time. I don’t really have a reason. My assistant coach (Ken Sanford), he left last year and asked if I wanted to leave with him. I thought about it for a couple days and I said ‘I think I want to go one more year.’ It was just a comfortable decision. Now that they won league, it’s like frosting on the cake. I can go out on top (laughs).
DPT: It was a weird coincidence that your final season be one full of very young players.
PW: It’s just a nice, young group of kids. They’re very focused and very motivated. And they encourage each other and work with each other. In terms of their youth, the thing that’s so positive for who’s taking over for me, is look what I’m handing him (laughs). These are some young guns. OK, I won league, here you go, go for it. See how far you can run with this group.
DPT: What will you miss most about teaching and coaching?
PW: I’ve built relationships with so many coaches. I think most of us, who have done it long enough, you’re probably going to miss that more than anything. Your team is out there playing and you run into these same guys. The kids, you have them for maybe two, three years and then they go on in their life. But for 20-something years I’ve been able to compete against my friends and there is a camaraderie and community among us golf coaches.
DPT: What is your coaching philosophy when it comes to golf?
PW: I know how hard the game of golf is. I’ve played enough games and I think golf is probably one of the hardest to play. When a kid has a bad day, the last thing he needs to hear is for me to beat on him. So my philosophy is to encourage kids as best they can to do well. Never throw in the towel. Every shot is a new shot and the next shot you have is the next opportunity you have to hit a really great shot.