When Philip O'Neal made the transition from coaching to athletic director, he didn't stop coaching. His students are just a little older.
"I don't miss coaching because I still get to coach daily," he said. "Now I coach coaches and coordinators."
In turn, that leads to what's best for the student-athlete, he believes. O'Neal speaks from experience because, well, when he talks of something it's because he's been a part of it.
"I consider the position to share your experiences with others to assist in their growth a gift," he said. "I made plenty of mistakes and shared some successes and I now get to utilize those experiences to influence others. That is a gift."
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O'Neal has been an athletic director for 18 years, working his way up from basketball coach at Weatherford High School to assistant A.D. and then the A.D. in the Weatherford School District. From there he went to the Fort Bend School District as athletic director, and he is beginning his second year in Mansfield.
"I coached for 13 years. I loved coaching," he said. "I do miss being around the student athletes on a daily basis at times."
But O'Neal believes his best way to best serve those student-athletes is the job he has now.
"I am lucky to be working for the student-athletes of MISD," he said. "I have this statement at the bottom of my signature line of my e-mail. It explains why I do what I do: I am an athletic director to create a culture in which coaches feel supported in developing programs that inspire student athletes to achieve excellence and become leaders with character."
In a world where young athletes are seeing in-your-face moments regularly in sports highlights and while watching games, O'Neal wants none of that. It may seem old school to some, but he proudly still believes one of the strongest concepts of athletics is being part of a team - and the more players remember that, the more they'll get out of sports.
"Generally speaking, athletes play a team game. Student-athletes must integrate themselves into a team," he said. "Individual expression impedes team success.
"My best advice for athletes is to listen to your coach and do the things they suggest you need to do to make your team the best it can be."
O'Neal also calls upon parents to help reinforce this belief. After all, be it sports or any other school-related topic, it all starts at home for a student.
"I played sports long enough that I was the best player on some teams, the worst player on some teams and everything in between on others," he said. "I know what it is to get attention from being the star and what it is to not play much and have to figure out my role. Each of those experiences assists me in my work today.
"Parents supporting their athlete and coach through good times and bad allows for the student to grow through whatever experiences they are having."
Ultimately, O'Neal said where a student-athlete goes in life has to be connected to education. This includes good sportsmanship, something some folks believe is endangered.
O'Neal isn't calling for stricter rules. He believes proper sportsmanship should come from the athletes themselves and those instructing them.
"I believe education is the best way to assist with maintaining sportsmanship. I don’t know that stricter rules should be in place," he said. "The current rules possess strong penalties and address persistent behavior with stronger penalties."
But, he added, coaches, coordinators, and even himself, must always remember they are working with high school students who are watching their every move and learning in the process.
"A large part of what we do as coaches and administrators is educate our students about the long-term consequences of choices made. Athletics provides a great vehicle to support the student-athletes we serve as they grow and mature," he said.
O'Neal got his superintendent certification in 2010. However, it was never something he has aspired to be. He's a coach, and athletics is his classroom.
"I wanted to learn more about how school districts worked so I went through the program to get the certification," he said. "It was a great growth opportunity."
He does, however, greatly respect a man who did make the transition from a very successful coach to a very successful administrator, Mansfield Superintendent Dr. Jim Vaszauskas. He led the Brock boys basketball team many great seasons and is now ranked among the top superintendents in the state.
And, O'Neal said Dr. V (as he's known around the district) is a big reason he left Fort Bend to return to the Metroplex.
"I did know Dr. Vaszauskas when we were coaching. We share a lot of the same philosophies when it comes to serving students and the opportunity to work for him in Mansfield was a huge draw for me professionally," O'Neal said.
"I have known Coach O'Neal for 25 years as a coach, athletic director, and friend," Dr. V. said. "He is the best athletic director in the state of Texas and is a great fit for Mansfield ISD. We are fortunate to have him sharing his talents with our coaches and our athletes."
O'Neal said his experiences in Weatherford and Fort Bend have helped greatly with adjusting to the Mansfield program. Under former A.D. Debbie Weems, it was considered one of the best in Texas even before he arrived.
"Weatherford provided me the opportunity to lead a campus. It provided me the experience and taught me how to coach coaches," he said. "Fort Bend provided me the opportunity to view athletics from the departmental level. It provided me the opportunity and experiences of coaching campus coordinators.
"I now coach coordinators on how to best be a person of influence on their campus based on my experiences of coaching coaches in Weatherford and coaching coordinators in Fort Bend."