MACOMB TOWNSHIP – Greg Baur was content to continue coaching in the background, much like a supporting actor in a movie.
Baur, 46, had been an assistant football coach for 26 years at four different schools, most recently at Macomb Dakota. For 21 seasons he was a defensive coordinator, including the last 12 for the Cougars.
And he was good at it. In 2001, under then-head coach Mike Carr, Bauer was instrumental in guiding Clinton Township Chippewa Valley to its only MHSAA title, in Division 2. Chippewa Valley held Jenison to 139 yards in its 26-13 victory in the Final. In 2006 and 2007, Baur was with head coach Mike Giannone when Dakota won its two MHSAA Division 1 titles. That gives him the distinction of being the only Macomb County coach to play a big part in three MHSAA championships.
Last January, Giannone left Dakota to take the head coaching position at Warren DeLaSalle. The move took Baur by surprise – but it also started the wheels turning in his head.
Just once had Baur sought to be a head coach. When Carr left Chippewa Valley after the 2004 season, Baur applied to take over. When he didn’t get the job, Giannone quickly hired him at Dakota.
With Giannone gone, Baur made another bid at a head coaching gig. This time, he got it.
“I don’t remember the date,” Baur said. “I just remember it was a snow day. They called me and told me I had it. The first thing I did was make sure the staff would stay, and they did. Next I met with the players, and the kids were really excited about it.”
At most programs, going from a coordinator position to take over as head coach is akin to jumping into a pool after sitting an hour with just your feet in. Baur said it isn’t like that for him.
Sure there’s more paper work, and yes, the fundraising becomes more of his responsibility. But as far as the workload, it’s not as daunting for Baur as it might be for others. Baur has always been a workaholic.
“I’ve always worked extra hard,” he said. “I told my wife, this will amp things up. It’s 24/7. The good thing is the kids have grown up a bit. And it’s not work for me. It’s fun. I’m really excited to get things going. When you wait 25 years you look at what you can tweak here and there. Offensively, I’ll tweak it a little. Defense is the same. I’m still running it. I can’t see myself not coaching (the defense).”
In a sense, Baur has already experienced success. He convinced Carr to come out of retirement and serve as his offensive coordinator.
It’s come full circle.
There are a number of reasons why Baur hadn’t looked elsewhere for a head coaching job. He and his wife, Renee, live in the area, and their three children attend schools in the Chippewa Valley school district, of which Dakota is a part. Their eldest child, Jason, played football at Dakota and graduated this spring. He’s now attending Wayne State University and helping out with Dakota’s freshmen team.
Professionally, there isn’t a program in Macomb County that can match Dakota. It is the only school in the county with more than one MHSAA title, and the Cougars are consistently one of the state’s top teams. They’ve made the playoffs 15 consecutive seasons, and just once since 2003 have they failed to win a playoff game. Last season Dakota lost to Detroit Cass Tech, 16-10, in a Regional Final.
Given that, there’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with being the head coach of such a program. It’s similar to the pressure that’s on coaches like Ralph Munger at Rockford and Kurt Richardson at Clarkston. Those in the community not only expect them to win every year, but expect their teams to be a factor in the playoffs every year. A first-round loss is not only disappointing – it can also raise a few eyebrows.
Baur’s attitude? Bring it on.
“To me, it’s not pressure,” he said. “I love to compete. If all goes well, great. If not, then we move on. I might not be the smartest coach around, but no one is going to outwork me.”
During this time of year, time is scarce. Double sessions start at 9 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. There’s time for dinner, then its film sessions followed by an hour or two of quality time with his children.
“That hasn’t changed,” he said. “That was always the schedule. But now there’s paperwork, putting out fires.
“I love this. There isn’t a part of the job I don’t like. There’s no complaining. You get an opportunity, you make the best of it. I know there’ll be tougher times.
“Being a head coach, it never really crossed my mind. (Giannone) is relatively young. I thought he’d retire (as a head coach) here. It wasn’t something I was campaigning for.”
Baur owes much of his success and where he’s at to those who mentored him. A graduate of Sterling Heights Stevenson, he played and coached under one of Macomb County’s legendary coaches, Rick Bye. After four years, Baur went to Romeo and coached under Greg Ganfield. Ganfield was gave Baur his first shot as a coordinator. Four years later, Baur went to Chippewa Valley.
Carr showed Baur how to run a program, not just coach. He lectured him on how to deal with parents and their concerns. A bit overwhelming then, Baur has gained the experience where such responsibilities are more easily managed.
“(Giannone) wasn’t that much different,” Baur said. “Heck, he coached under Carr, too. But (Giannone) took the program to another level.”
As good as Dakota has been recently, expectations are even higher this season. The senior and junior classes did not lose a game on the freshman or junior varsity levels. Many outside the program, including Utica Eisenhower coach Chris Smith, have said this senior class at Dakota is one of the best they’ve seen.
Baur said one of his biggest tasks is to make sure this group doesn’t become complacent.
“I’m a players’ coach,” he said. “When it got real hot recently, I dialed back. They don’t even call me Coach. It’s like, hey Baur.”
Baur is just like one of the guys – except this time he’s playing the leading role.
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTO: Greg Baur (right), the new head coach at Macomb Dakota, directs one of his players. (Photo by Tom Markowski.)
SOUTHFIELD — Normally, having students come up and say they won’t be in school the next day might have a school administrator seething and ready to reserve seats in the detention room.
But if there ever was a time to allow it, this was the moment.
Following a 36-32 upset of Belleville that stunned many around the state in the MHSAA Division 1 Football Final on Nov. 26, Southfield Arts & Technology senior quarterback Isaiah Marshall said he and other players made it known, “Don’t expect us in school on Monday.”
After all, the game was played and ended late on a Sunday night, the team achieved something nobody else in the community had done, and there were celebrations that needed to begin.
And for the record, the players were back in school Tuesday.
Whether it’s been in school or outside the halls of Southfield A&T, it’s been a week of historic celebrations and congratulations after the Warriors captured the first MHSAA Finals championship in school history.
Marshall said that remained the case when he attended the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday.
“Everywhere I go, there is someone congratulating me,” he said.
Over their final decades before the schools merged in 2016, Southfield High School and Southfield-Lathrup High School had plenty of talented teams with numerous players who went on to play big-time college football and even in the NFL.
But none of those good teams was able to advance to a state championship game, let alone win it all.
“There was a lot of people that texted me and talked to me and said they graduated from the 1980s,” said Marshall, pointing out that one former player who reached out was Nic Jones, currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs who graduated from Southfield High. “There were a lot of older people that used to go to Southfield that told me that they couldn’t do the job. They were proud of us that we could do it for them.”
Marshall said that after the game was over Sunday, he and other teammates congregated at his house at 3 a.m. to watch a replay of the game.
It was only the first time this week the replay was watched.
“We watched it that day and the day after,” Marshall said. “I think we’ve been watching it the whole week.”
A parade Saturday will start at noon at the building that housed the old Southfield-Lathrup and finish at the current school, which was the home of Southfield High before the merger. A&T then will host a celebration in the school gymnasium from 1:15-2:30 p.m.
Players will certainly soak it all in while they can, because it won’t be long before they split up.
Marshall will soon sign to play in college for Kansas and will be enrolling early there. He plans to take his last final exams at Southfield A&T next week and head to Lawrence the first week of January.
Teammate Jalen Todd will do the same as he is also committed to Kansas, while Tashi Braceful will enroll early at Toledo.
But long after this year, it’s a group that won’t be forgotten in the community, or the state after it pulled off the upset of a Belleville team that was riding a 38-game winning streak and was two-time reigning Division 1 champion.
No doubt, future reunions should be memorable and festive.
Even Marshall admitted his still rubs his eyes in amazement over what his team did.
“Yes, I still do,” he said.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTOS (Top) Southfield A&T players enjoy the first moments after their Division 1 championship win at Ford Field. (Middle) The A&T band plays during a break in the action. (Below) Fans celebrate in the stands during the victory over Belleville. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)