• Michigan

Coaching carousel in full swing as the 2018 football season nears

By: Tom Markowski, July 2, 2018, 4:19 pm



This 2018 football season, if nothing else, will be one of change.

No sport relies on the organizational skills of a coaching staff as much as football and there are numerous programs which will enter this season with new head coaches.

The landscape has changed dramatically for coaches in the last 20 years or so. The arrival of social media has created a new forum for criticism and sometimes abuse for coaches, especially those in high profile sports like football and basketball. Face-to-face meetings between parents and coaches have been replaced by postings on social media sites.  

In the past coaches earned respect for coaching decades at one school. In today’s world wins and losses, playing time and how a coach showcases a particular player, overshadow, in many eyes, the value of teaching responsibility, respect for others and the benefits of teamwork.     

Many of our coaching giants have already left us and, in the modern era, this exodus began in 2006 when Jack Pratt retired with 304 career victories at four different schools and two years later Jim Reynolds stepped down at Detroit King due to health reasons.

In 2009 Rick Bye at Sterling Heights Stevenson and Leo “Smokey” Boyd at Saginaw Nouvel retired. Two years later, Bob Lantzy retired as head coach at Utica Eisenhower after 41 seasons only to resurface at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek in 2016. Also in 2011 the winningest coach in the Upper Peninsula, Ken Hofer, left Menominee with 322 career victories.

In 2012 Mike Boyd left without fanfare as the head coach at Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes. Boyd won 361 games, which places him fourth on the all-time list and, like John Herrington at Farmington Hills Harrison, spent his entire head coaching career at one school.

Legendary coach Al Fracassa retired on top in 2013 after winning three consecutive Division 2 titles at Birmingham Brother Rice. At the time Fracassa was the state’s winningest coach with 430 victories. He has since been passed by John Herrington. More on Herrington later.

Mendon’s John Schwartz retired in 2015 and the next season Tom Mach dropped a bombshell when he announced his retirement as the head coach at Detroit Catholic Central. Mach was the face of the program since 1976 and he guided the Shamrocks to 10 state titles and 370 victories in his 41 seasons. 

Also of note after that 2016 season, Ernie Ayers retired after 39 seasons as Sand Creek’s head coach.

The first big name to leave following last season was Mike Zdebski at Walled Lake Western. Zdebski’s career record is 160-59 and includes a Division 1 title in 1999. Zdebski left Western to take a similar position at Hamilton High located in Chandler (AZ).

The Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, which has three high schools (Canton, Plymouth, and Salem) within its school system, had to replace each of the three head coaching positions as a result of the retirement of Tim Baechler (Canton), Mike Sawchuck (Plymouth) and Kurt Britnell (Salem) all left their respective programs following the 2017 season.

The Saginaw Valley League will have four new head coaches this season. Matt Peterson is the new coach at Saginaw Heritage and Jake Weingartz replaces Kyle Zimmerman at Davison.  There are new coaches at Bay City Central and Bay City Western as well.

Tim Wooer left Traverse City West to take over the program at Kingsley. Wooer coached a number of fine teams at West and returns home to coach. In 2005 Wooer coached Kingsley to the Division 6 title.

Jack Wallace retired as the Okemos coach after last season and Mike Krumm will take over the program this season. Wallace won 205 games in his career.

One of the strangest coaching changes is taking place at Grosse Pointe North where longtime coach Frank Sumbera was fired last week, as the school’s varsity baseball and varsity football coach. School administrators contend Sumbera resigned. Sumbera denied this, first in a Detroit newspaper report and again to State Champs on Monday.  Sumbera just completed his 47th season as the baseball coach and he’s spent 49 seasons as the head of the football program. Hiring a coach this late, especially under these circumstances plus the fact that 7-on-7 camps are taking place, does not bode well for the incoming staff.

News of Noel Dean leaving the Lowell program stunned many. Dean was one of the more well-respected coaches statewide and had a 241-68 career record. Lowell won three state titles under Dean and the Red Arrows came within one play of winning a fourth (King defeated Lowell, 40-38, in the 2015 Division 2 final).  

Herrington will likely be the next coach to leave us. Harrison is scheduled to close following the 2018-19 school year and it’s uncertain whether Herrington will seek another head coaching position for the 2019 season. Herrington is 435-108-1 and is the only head coach the school has had. Harrison began playing varsity football in 1970.

For the new coaches, here is an opportunity to make a difference. Here is a chance to implement, in some cases, a new system. The challenge to continue a strong tradition, like the one at Canton, for instance, is massive.

They will also be scrutinized more than they’ve ever been before. Programs like the one Dean built at Lowell are expected to win and challenge for a state title.  

What’s taking place is a great loss to the sport. People like Bye, Dean, Fracassa, Herrington, and others have given the sport, and us, so much of their lives. Dedication to the sport and to the lives of the players they’ve coached is unmistakable. Did they lose games because of mistakes made? Certainly. But who really cares? What’s important is their commitment to the game and the betterment of the student-athletes they mentored.