Come fall, Phil O’Keeffe will be the new coach of the Fox Chapel Area High School girls’ volleyball team. Come spring, he’ll start his 15th year with the boys’ volleyball team, one of the longest tenures of current FC coaches.
“Nobody coaches high school for the money,” he said. “It barely covers your travel.”
He once calculated his contract at $4 an hour. However, there is other compensation.
“It’s fun to see the players develop. I’m promoting a sport,” he said.
He highlights the positive experiences and not just the successes, which include Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) champs in 2006 and 2015, and two state finals.
Positive interaction with his team include two former students’ weddings, one as the officiant and one as a groomsman. He golfs regularly with those he coached, too.
“I try to keep in contact with all the former players. If done right, high school sports are awesome.”
At 6 foot 5 inches, Phil played a lot of sports. He knows most people are used to backyard games and think playing volleyball is easy. The coach attests to the intricate timing of volleyball and lists hand-eye coordination, quickness, arm speed, and good vertical leap as skills.
However, when he talks about his August volleyball camps, he puts the joy of the game on equal footing with the required skills.
The two week-long camps, held in early August, are open to guys and gals, middle-schoolers and high schoolers, novice and varsity players.
“I like the way we do it. Mixed in with the skills is fun. We don’t go overboard,” he said.
Phil, 51, remembers a time when the sports culture wasn’t as hyped. His parents didn’t attend his games religiously. And, players weren’t funneled into one sport.
“Sports are fun, not life or death, not the end of the world.”
His coaching philosophy is to have the players buy into team goals.
“Get them to want it more than you do,” he said. “They’ll do all the work for you.”
The boys’ section is very competitive and Phil wouldn’t want it any other way.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, he attended Central Catholic with soccer as his preferred sport. At Allegheny College, he switched to volleyball. Then, he moved on to Macon, France and played professionally.
Living in France for eight years was a dichotomy. He arrived not knowing a word of the language and became fluent without any accent. He had two lives: one in Europe and one here.
Coming back in 2001, his professional volleyball career gave him “street cred.” He took up coaching — first at Central, then at Fox Chapel.
While he espouses keeping sports in a proper perspective, Phil admits to having sent his clipboard flying or breaking it numerous times until a player gave him a heavy, thick replacement.
A software designer by trade, he enjoys building things in his backyard and playing golf.
And, given the amount of time he spends coaching and playing, he’s lucky his girlfriend, Tracy, is “a sports girl” who is understanding.