They came as a team and one by one over a 36-year period each one left their mark on the Denver City football program.
Four coaches built a family atmosphere and along with similar philosophies have made Mustang football one of the most talked about and respected programs on the South Plains and throughout West Texas.
After spending two years in Muleshoe a young Coach Mike Wartes decided to make the move to Denver City in 1981 and brought with him two of his assistant coaches. That would be the start of one of the most successful football programs in the area. One year later a fourth coach made his decision to also move to Denver City and except for 1998 these four coaches guided the Mustang football program for 36 of the next 37 years.
The two coaches who chose to also make the move to Mustang land with Wartes was Coach Steve Taylor and Coach Alan Cornelius. One year later, after spending his first-year coaching in Hereford, Coach Terry Summers joined the other three and from there have guided a program where hundreds of young lives were touched and just as important, memories were made.
Because of a school board and administration who wanted to keep the continuity of the program together, each time the head coach decided to make a move as part of their coaching advancement the assistant coach was moved up to head up the program.
After spending four years in Denver City and compiling an overall 25-17 record, Wartes was the first to leave when he accepted the head job at Saginaw Boswell close to Ft. Worth. Cornelius then took over the reins for the next seven years recording a 58-18 record. When he decided to make the move to Canyon Randall, a 4A school at that time, Taylor was moved in and guided the program not once but twice. Taking over for Cornelius in 1992, Taylor was the head coach through the 1997 season before leaving for Ozona. Coming back in 2011 as the head coach he guided the program another five-years compiling an overall 11-year record of 82-33-1. Twice during that 11 year period Taylor had two teams that were undefeated in the regular season.
After Taylor left, the Mustangs were coached by Mike Royce for just one year in 1998 opening the door for Summers to take over the program in 1999. For the next 12 seasons Summers guided the program finishing with a 66-60 record. He retired following the 2010 season allowing Taylor to make the short 40-mile trip from Brownfield where he succeeded Summers. During that 2010 season the two teams matched up in Denver City where the Cubs left with an exciting last-minute win.
Together these four coaches compiled a 231-128-2 record over 36 years, an amazing 64% winning percentage. There were 8 district championship teams and 22 of those teams advanced into the playoffs. That was a great post season record considering that during 20 of those years only the district champion advanced and that was followed by just the top two teams making the post season party. The UIL then expanded the playoffs to the top three teams and eventually to the current top four team format.
“It was a lot of fun coaching for and with all these guys for so many years,” Taylor said. “I wish we had all stayed together all this time, but things always change. I learned a lot from all these guys on how to treat kids; how to love ‘em, and let them know you love ‘em.”
Although he never served as a head coach also part of the team was Benjy Unger. He also came in 1981 from Lockhart and served the Mustangs as the offensive and defensive line coach. He stayed until 1998 and then went to Ozona with Taylor and eventually to Midland Greenwood.
And maybe the unsung hero of that staff, although he wasn’t a coach, was Bill “Doc” Scott who served as the athletic trainer and tended to the many injuries, both minor and major. It was Doc’s decision if and when a player returned to action and his diagnosis was always accurate and respected by the entire staff. His goal was to get them back on the field as soon as possible, but only when he felt like they were completely healed.
Denver City might have had the one of the youngest football staffs in the state in 1981. Wartes was 28, Taylor 27, Cornelius 26, and the baby of the staff, Summers at 23.
“I was the ‘Baby’ of Coach Wartes, Coach Cornelius and Coach Taylor,” Summers said. “Most all I ever knew about coaching came from these great men. Any person that was involved in this program for the past 35 years can count their blessings! There was not a better staff of coaches and teachers in the state of Texas and we were blessed to have a lot of great kids that played for the Mustangs during those years. I love and appreciate all of them.”
Cornelius had the best winning percentage of the four with a 75% winning percentage barely edging Taylor who had a 73% winning percentage.
“What an honor to be a part of that legacy. We were so blessed to be a part of something so special and share that with the amazing people of Denver City,” Cornelius said. “We had a great time with some awesome players and a talented and passionate staff who both made sacrifices so willingly because of their love for each other and the game of football.”
As an example of comradery between the four coaches Coach Taylor told one story showing the bonding of the four.
“We all had the same conference period right before athletics and after our regular season we played a lot of 3 on 3 basketball games in the green room almost every day,” Taylor said with a grin on his face. “These games got pretty heated. There were a few times the kids were ready for off-season workouts and had to wait for us to finish the game. They usually cheered us on and the games got even more heated.”
Summers was not the only one to retire from the game as each one moved on in their professional careers. After leaving coaching, Wartes eventually became the superintendent of schools for the Canyon ISD where he just recently retired this year. Cornelius continued his coaching at Canyon Randal for several years and when he decided to retire he went the route of retire/rehire and now serves Canyon ISD as their Discipline Coordinator. Coach Summers left the teaching field completely and now is in an oil field related job working for Oxy.
And Coach Taylor, as most of you know, coached another six years in Denver City before holding down the Athletic Directors position this past year. He was replaced by Daniel Fontenot who had joined him in Ozona. Coach Fontenot continues instilling many of the same qualities and traits of the four coaches who proceeded him.
“Denver City is and always has been a special place with special people and a place that most people can’t hardly leave,” Taylor concluded. “I thank God I got to be here for so many years and meet so many great people.”
And Coach Cornelius summed up his feelings by saying, “I will never be able to repay the players, staff and fans for that wonderful time in our lives. Thanks for the honor of being a part of so many incredible lives. Go Mustangs!!”
These four coaches had a big impact on not only their players, but also on the many Mustang fans during those 35 years. They taught us how to be fierce competitors playing to win, but also how to be gracious in a losing effort and moving on.
Denver City was the real winner with these four great coaches. Thanks for your time well spent with our children.