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STEPPING DOWN

Daniel resigns after 13 seasons, 111 wins with Dodger boys

—Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge basketball coach Tom Daniel stepped down as the Dodger head coach on Thursday. Daniel coached the Dodgers for 13 seasons to 111 victories.

After 13 seasons of pouring his heart and soul into Fort Dodge basketball, Tom Daniel came to the toughest conclusion a head coach ever faces: he wasn’t going to be the right person for the job moving forward.

An introspective and emotional Daniel formally announced his resignation on Thursday, officially ending the second-longest tenured run in Dodger hoop history.

Daniel took the reins of the program in 2008 as a young, energetic coach from Chicago with no head varsity experience. He leaves well over a decade later with quality to match the quantity of his era: 111 victories, including a stretch of seven consecutive seasons with eight or more wins while annually running the CIML gauntlet.

And yet, no one has been a more brutally honest critic of the program’s well-being than Daniel himself. So when Fort Dodge began to struggle over the course of the last two years, Daniel took inventory of what wasn’t working and why.

“I had some time and distance to reflect. I think that everything began to take its toll, and I really started to pay the price (mentally) for not being able to produce the kind of results this community deserves,” Daniel said. “It’s tough. I’m an incredibly competitive person. I want to get it right. I don’t take losing well, and I’m a big fan of personal accountability. I’m just not wired in a way to make excuses or not be honest about the fact that the struggles these last two seasons, especially, ultimately rests on my shoulders. We weren’t getting the job done. That’s on me.

“My hope is that I can be a part of the solution for the new coach and his staff. I still want to help in any way possible. No one will be as invested as me, given I have two sons coming up. But there has to be a new voice and a different energy. I needed to identify that before it became the elephant in the room.”

With the exception of one season, the first decade under Daniel’s direction was steady. Fort Dodge had four different winning campaigns, going 13-10 in 2010-11, 12-10 in 2013-14, 13-9 in 2016-17, and 14-9 in 2017-18. The Dodgers crowned an all-stater — Malcolm Clayton in 2018 — and five of Daniel’s players went on to play basketball at the collegiate level.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the community to decide what my body of work as head coach looks like someday — not me,” said the 47-year-old Daniel. “I remember coming here and talking at the first public meeting in the (FDSH) library (in 2008) about having a goal of reaching the state tournament. We didn’t achieve that, which will never sit right with me. No one is more disappointed in that than I am.

“With that being said, as I get older, I understand more and more the importance of helping to raise successful young men who grow to be good fathers, husbands, and productive members of society. Sports are a bottom-line business — I get that — but I don’t want to be judged on the wins and losses alone, or just being a basketball coach. I hope that my former players look back and feel like I influenced them in a positive way. Because I’ve been blessed to have a lot of terrific people come through this program.”

Daniel viewed Fort Dodge as a “destination job” from day one.

“I didn’t come here as a stepping stone to get to a Johnston or a Waukee. I wanted to coach a Dodger basketball program rich with tradition and be a part of that legacy. The program my dad (Nick) played for,” said Daniel, his voice cracking. “I treated that with a great deal of reverence. It was a responsibility that was special to me, having the same (coaching title) as (Hall of Famer) Dutch Huseman.”

At 15 seasons and 190 victories, only Huseman spent more time and won more games at the helm.

“There were plenty of mistakes along the way, and I didn’t make everyone happy. There’s a lot I’d do differently with the benefit of experience and retrospect,” Daniel said. “But ultimately, I always wanted to treat this profession with honesty and integrity, and be as fair as possible. I appreciated the patience the administration and community showed as I found my way and learned as a young head coach.”

Daniel, a Kansas University graduate, was also forthright about what he would like to see from both the basketball program and the FDSH athletic department moving forward.

“I hope we find someone who truly wants to make Fort Dodge and Dodger basketball home,” Daniel said. “The players and the community deserve that. It’s a huge commitment and a year-round investment. Coaching isn’t for the faint of heart. There are certainly areas that can and should be improved or, at least, tightened up. I will not only own up to that, but again, hopefully help to rectify it with whatever role I take on.

“I do think Fort Dodge needs a clear vision about sharing its athletes: how it’s going to be done and what it’s truly going to take. We need to get the coaches and programs on the same page and communicate the goals and plans. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way sometimes. I haven’t been the best myself (in cooperating). But in this day and age, with more and more choosing to specialize, we have to all do a better job of making sure kids stay out for other sports. Because I’ve grown to realize there’s no substitute for competition. I want athletes playing other sports (in the basketball offseason), rather than just being in the gym or the weight room.”

Daniel said he “couldn’t even begin” to list the number of people who have helped the program grow during his tenure.

“There are so many that I don’t want to single anyone out,” Daniel said. “I’m incredibly thankful for their hard work, commitment and support. Players, parents and fans alike. And my assistant coaches have been invaluable. I will miss talking shop with them, but also, their everyday friendship during the grind of a season.”

Daniel paused and got choked up as he turned his attention to his family.

“My wife (Becky) and kids (Maddie, Ryan and Nick) have put up with so much while I pursued this dream. It’s been hard. I’m not an easy guy to be around when I’m Coach Daniel, and my kids have seen way more of Coach Daniel than dad for too long now.

“It’s time to change that.”

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