By George Slaughter
Cinco Ranch High School football coach Don Clayton Monday announced his intention to retire this spring following 20 years at the school.
Clayton started the program when the school opened in 1999. He’s enjoyed success there, leading the Cougars to a 141-78 record.
He also served as head coach at Livingston High School, in East Texas, between stints on the Katy High School coaching staff of Mike Johnston, who preceded current coach Gary Joseph. Including his Livingston stint, Clayton’s teams had a 151-108 record.
In retirement, Clayton looks forward to crossing items off of his bucket list, including traveling with his wife, Rhonda. Last week, they attended the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
“That was unbelievable,” Clayton said. “That course looks great on TV, but TV doesn’t do it justice. You look at it and you say, wow.”
A future goal is to attend the Ohio State-Michigan football game, scheduled to be played this season at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“Traveling through the Midwest, that would be interesting to see,” Clayton said. “When we were at the Master’s, we stayed in Charleston, S.C. We went through a lot of the historical sites in Charleston, and we want to see more sites in Virginia. This country has so many neat things that happened. To see them in person is what we’re looking forward to doing.”
Clayton is originally from Southeast Texas, playing his high school football at Nederland and becoming drawn to the idea of becoming a coach.
“I had the great fortune of having coaches in junior high and high school who I looked up to and respected,” Clayton said. “I thought it was pretty neat to interact with people they way they did. It always looked like it would be fun.”
Clayton played quarterback and punted at the University of Wyoming and signed a free agent contract in 1978 to punt for the Buffalo Bills. He punted in four preseason games before being cut in the first year of coach Chuck Knox’s regime there.
“He was every bit as mean as advertised,” Clayton said. “He was a hard coach.”
Clayton got into coaching, and took over at Cinco Ranch following his second tenure on Johnston’s Katy staff. Clayton said that being the first coach at the then-new school was an experience like no other.
“People take over already-established-programs,” Clayton said. “With a new program, you set the program, the traditions. That was, to me, a neat part of the job, starting something from scratch. That was a challenge, but I’ll always be thankful for (then-superintendent) Dr. Leonard Merrell, (then-principal) Dr. Lowell Strike, and (then-athletics director) Bill Bundy for giving me the opportunity.”
Reflecting on his Cinco Ranch tenure, Clayton said the 2009 and 2016 seasons, in which the Cougars made the semi-finals, were exciting. He also remembered the 2015 team beginning its season with two wins, both on last-second field goals, against Cy Ranch and Jersey Village.
Clayton expressed gratitude to the coaches and players with whom he’s worked.
“There is not too many things more rewarding than working with young people and helping them to grow into productive adults,” Clayton said.
Katy ISD athletics director Debbie Decker said Clayton has had a long and storied career in the district.
“He’s been in education 38 years total, which is incredible,” Decker said. “The program he has built at Cinco Ranch is one of the best, I think, in the state, and that includes all sports.”
Decker said one of Clayton’s accomplishments is helping to develop coaches. One example of this is Chad Simmons, who had been Cinco Ranch’s defensive coordinator before taking over the Taylor High School athletic program last year.
“He’s always been a great athletic coordinator in growing our own head coaches,” Decker said. “You’ll see a lot of our head coaches that were assistants at Cinco Ranch and they were more than likely the best people for the job and got the job.”
Clayton was inducted into Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in 2017.
As for a successor, Decker said she would visit both with Cinco Ranch principal James Cross and the district’s human resources department about how best to move forward. She said Tuesday morning that she and Cross had been “playing phone tag” but they would meet soon. She said she has already visited with the human resources department.
“We’ve all thanked Coach Clayton for his years of service and leadership at Cinco Ranch High School,” Decker said. “All the programs are very well thought of, not only in our district but in state, and that’s a direct reflection on Coach Clayton’s leadership.”