There is no question Dave Daniels still has plenty of drive for coaching football at age 55.
Daniels is finally getting his start at leading a high school program at a time when a lot of head coaches are crossing or nearing the finish line. His drive to succeed is going to be crucial, since Daniels is taking over a Christian Liberty program that is still in relative infancy.
"This is not a position you put a guy my age into easily," Daniels said. "The opportunity to be a head coach, which I didn't think would happen, this is a great opportunity. It's an opportunity to really do some things over there."
The decision wasn't that difficult for Christian Liberty athletic director Steve Rowland. Daniels was the first person who came to Rowland's mind when Jim Calkins opted to step down after leading the program during its initial five seasons.
Daniels was still an assistant at St. Viator three years ago when he was approached by Rowland about coming over to Christian Liberty as an assistant coach. Daniels didn't believe it was the right fit then, but this time it was different since his two-year tenure as offensive coordinator at Guerin Prep in River Grove ended after a coaching change where former Chicago Bear Glen Kozlowski took over.
"It was a real nice, easy transition for Dave to be coming in and taking over for Jim," Rowland said. "Jim was ready to go and we had talked about it last year. He said, ‘Steve, it's time for me to pass the torch. I'm looking forward to being a fan and I want to come and watch my son play.
"Dave was the first guy I contacted. There's just no doubt it's a perfect fit for him and the system he wants to run will be a great fit for the kids."
And Daniels is appreciative of the foundation Calkins put in place as Christian Liberty endured its share of growing pains with only 3 victories in the school's first five seasons as a member of the IHSA.
"If it wasn't for him getting this program off the ground, I wouldn't have this opportunity today," Daniels said. "You can't bypass that he put a lot of effort into it."
Daniels has put in a lot of time to prepare himself for this challenge. He ran the Arlington Cowboys for nine years and then spent 16 years at St. Viator in a variety of roles at every level under varsity head coaches Kevin Kelly, Paul Waszak and Chris Kirkpatrick.
"I've had the opportunity to work under some good, quality football people," Daniels said.
Now his goal is to turn Christian Liberty into a program known for a good quality of football. Having a larger and more experienced coaching staff that includes his son David, who played at Viator, Valparaiso and Millikin and will run the defense, Bob Lamick, Tim Lenckus and Chris Soda will give Christian Liberty's players more individualized instruction than they were able to get in the past.
Daniels is working to get Christian Liberty's returning players who aren't in another sport in the weight room. He also plans to do some summer 7-on-7s and use all of the IHSA-allotted 25 off-season practice days.
"Our team motto is one simple thing ... when we break down at the end of the day, it's win, 1-2-3, win," Daniels said. "We have to try to change the mindset over there and get them thinking about that. Watching film, the discrepancy of talent isn't huge.
"It's more about execution and want-to. The mindset has to change."
Christian Liberty lost all 9 of its games last year and was shut out seven times. But talking to other coaches in the Northeastern Athletic Conference has Daniels believing things can start changing quickly.
"In a short time, if we can just get them to buy in, the lower half of the league, we should be able to compete with them right away," said Daniels, who will make his head coaching debut in late August at Alden-Hebron. "It's very exciting and I'm really looking forward to it.
"If we get the attitude turned around then we'll have a chance to win a few games. And with a little bit of success we'll start to build from there."
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.