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FOOTBALL: Birmingham Brother Rice Coaching Search Breakdown

By: Scott Burnstein, January 2, 2014, 8:00 am

BIRMINGHAM – The vacancy sign won’t be lit for much longer.

Birmingham Brother Rice will be filling its’ much-coveted football head-coaching job very soon.

And what a plum gig it is, one of the premiere prep gridiron programs in the whole country, constructed to epic heights by Al Fracassa, the MHSAA’s leader in wins who retired last month with his third straight state championship in tow after over five decades on the area sidelines.

Here’s a look at the Top 5 candidates (in alphabetical order), as the search comes down the home stretch this month, with the spot set to be filled by January 24 at the latest.

Adam “Coach K” Korzeniewski – “In-House Frontrunner No. 1,” Coach K has been Fracassa’s defensive coordinator the past five years and is a master strategist and motivator. His players love and respect him equally. Prepping at Grosse Pointe South in the early 1990s, he played in college at Western Michigan where he was a safety. Looked upon by his peers and the press as one of the state’s outstanding young coaching minds, Korzeniewski is of similar demeanor to Fracassa, intense and meticulous, yet approachable and not overbearing.

Scott Merchant (pictured) – Maybe the overall frontrunner for the job, the one “Rice Guy” that has a significant and successful resume as a head coach, having spent a near-decade pacing the sidelines across the field from  his mentor, Fracassa, in the Catholic League at U-D Jesuit (miraculously taking the Cubbies to two appearances in the final four). The Warriors’ alum has been at Macomb County’s Chippewa Valley since 2012. Merchant played and started his coaching career at Albion College, serving as defensive coordinator with the Brittons for three seasons in the 1990s. Chippewa Valley went 9-2 in 2013.

Steve Morrison – Legendary Brother Rice alum and retired NFL linebacker, Morrison is said to have been campaigning for the position behind the scenes. He played under Bo at Michigan and started in the League with the Indianapolis Colts. In terms of experience, he’s coached quite a bit as a valued assistant since hanging up his pads and cleats; first at Rice as defensive coordinator, then in Ann Arbor with the Wolverines under Lloyd Carr in the early-2000s and most recently with Western Michigan (LB-DC), Eastern Michigan (LBs) and Syracuse (LBs).

Tony Patritto – If the search committee decides to go outside the “Rice family,” Patritto is being pegged by many as the one that most likely would get the nod. He’s a no-nonsense, fiery type of guy, similar to a certain one young Albert Fracassa back in the late 1960s when he was named purveyor of the Warriors attack on the football field after nine years cutting his teeth further down the rung in the Catholic League at Royal Oak Shrine. Like Fracassa, Patritto learned the ropes of being a head coach in the CHSL as well, beginning his career at Madison Heights Bishop Foley (his alma mater) in the 1990s before going on to turn Rochester Adams into a perennial Metro Detroit power the past decade. Patritto has the hardware to show for his already long and accomplished tenure wearing the whistle around his neck, collecting a state-title ring in 2003. In his 10 years at Adams, he’s led the Highlanders into the final four three times and into the playoffs in every season but one. Just this last year, he did a superb job with an injury-stricken ball club that he guided into the playoffs and to an unexpected district crown.

David Sofran – “In-House Frontrunner No. 2” and the sentimental favorite for the job, when you take into account that he’s Fracassa’s longtime protégé and alleged choice to be his successor. Sofran is an all-time Rice great on the gridiron as a wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback in the mid-1990s prior to a standout college career at Northeastern.  He’s been with the Warriors coachong staff since 2000 and the team’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator for the last few years. If Sofran gets the offer and accepts it, I’m sure you’d still see Fracassa around quite often, which would be comforting to the remaining players in the program and obviously aid in the transition process.

Sleeper candidate: Mike Lodish (Rice alum and retied NFL vet on the defensive line with the most appearances in the Super Bowl – six – than any other player in pro football history)