His dump truck was still fully loaded with dirt and there was still a job to finish when 22-year old recent college graduate Phil Datka pulled into the lot of Frances Jordan High School back in the summer of 1967 answering a newspaper ad for a football coach that his boss Bill Kaufman pointed out to him.
"They (the team) were working out on the field when I pulled in," Datka said. "The old coach sized me up and they hired me the next day. That's how it all got started."
And in a delightful turn of events, that's how it all finished too. This past week, Datka got a call from the 76-year old Kaufman, who's retired and now living in the Phoenix area. Kaufman, like many other people, had heard of Datka's impending retirement and wanted to give his old protégé a friendly reminder of who helped point him in the right direction.
He coached just one season at Frances Jordan, which later closed, but it was enough to put on Datka's resume and help him land a coaching and teaching job at Germantown. That position that proved to be a little more permanent.
And it was full of stories, good, bad and otherwise - about 41 years or so worth.
The vast majority of his stories were good, just like his last one, just recently finished, put together by a scrappy, determined and undersized team -much like Datka himself used to be.
They turned in a 7-5 effort and concluded with a strong finish. It was a squad full of overachievers, who were sorely disappointed at their 14-0 defeat in their season opener against West Bend West, but who then turned around and beat Little 10 Conference champion Hartford, 22-6, the following weekend, the same weekend Datka sent out his retirement announcement.
The team lost only to the best in the North Shore Conference (Whitefish Bay, Division 2 state finalist Cedarburg and 10-time league champion Homestead), played one more Homestead game for the ages (a 21-20 last-second defeat in the regular season closer) and then turned around and beat Homestead in the second-round of the state playoffs to end a 10-year losing streak to the Highlanders.
It was the last of Datka's 279 victories. A week later was the last of his 150 defeats, on his home field against defending Division 1 state champions Marquette.
The last season also showed that the old dog could learn new tricks. He ran out of a pistol formation for the first time and he ran alternating quarterbacks, senior Dylan Krivoshein and junior Josh Mongan, in every play, just to keep the opposition off-balance.
"I never did that, even when I had two good quarterbacks (such as Josh Cocking and Doug Atkinson in 1991)," Datka said. "Really, this was such a team effort, because we had no superstars. We had some good individuals, but heck, we had an offensive line that barely averaged 200 pounds (a man), but we just played really well as a unit."
He kept giving his praise and effort to the kids, because the kids kept giving theirs to him.
"This is all so bittersweet," said linebacker senior David Galginaitis, on the night Germantown officially honored Datka more than a month ago. "It's his last season and our (the seniors) last season, so we didn't want to let him end on a bad note."
Galginaitis epitomized Datka's love of this team, as Galginaitis fought his way back from a 2009 knee injury to make himself a valuable performer this fall.
Datka pointed to that Hartford game as the true turnaround.
"The first game was such a disappointment," he said. "They then played with a lot more emotion (against Hartford). They realized they were a much better team than they were in that first week."
After that, Datka started to take more in, including all the "lasts".
The last trip to Port Washington (a win), the official last regular season home game (a win over Grafton), the last practice (Nov. 5 the day before Marquette), the last walk off the field (with daughter Jesse) after the loss to Marquette on Nov. 6, and the last team banquet (Nov. 17). The last everything.
"It was something," he said. "I knew I had coached 42 years, but it didn't feel like 42 years. It always felt like I had started just a few years ago."
A few years that went by way too fast. The 22-year-old is now close to 65 and is much greyer and heavier than he'd like to be.
He knew a change had to be made, as much as he enjoyed it.
"I just realized that the kids really needed someone in the building," he said. "I've been out of the school so long. I had to make that decision early (in September) or else I'd get caught up watching the kids work out that it'd start all over again."
As it was, it's been a fine 42 seasons full of successes, failures and all things in between.
Not bad for a former truck driver.
Datka's final record: 279-150
First game (1969): 7-6 loss to Pio Nono
First win (1969): 13-6 over Pewaukee
Conferences involved with: Scenic Moraine, Braveland and North Shore
Conference titles: 8
Undefeated seasons: 1973, 1974, 1998
State playoff berths: 15
State semifinals: 1992, 2002 and 2007
State finals: 1979 and 1997
State champions: 1998 and 2003
2010 seniors: Galginaitis, Malcolm Bowers, Jacob Richmond, Jacob Baker, Cole Reindl, Krivoshein, Alex Gasper, Zach Rosen, Zak Dewindt, Josh Heilgendorf, Tanner Tetzlaff, Jesse Garcia, Devonte Smith, Brian Kuhlenbeck, Chad Wanek, Matt Schabel, Austin Falter, Brian Stemm, Tony Lustek, Cullin Mohn, Kevin Bartos, Maxx Budiac, Alec Zoern, Joe Schultz, Stephen Hahn, Andrew Monroe, Jack Anderson, Matt Eggert, Adam Hurtz, and Brendan Kons.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Sept. 19
- Sport Shorts: Sept. 18, 2014 issue
- Germantown ends six years of frustration against Cedarburg
- Germantown girls tennis team to honor Graham, Sackett
- Germantown girls cross country team adapts, wins Whitnall Invite
- Football: Preps football photos of the week: Sept. 12
- Doran's "Pick 6" sparks Germantown to 48-31 win over Cedarburg
- Sports Wraps: Sept. 11, 2014 issue
- Germantown girls volleyball team adjusts schedule, claims own invite
- Germantown football team responds, rallies to beat Bay in NSC opener