Longtime Assistant Set to Lead Dakota

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

August 17, 2016

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.)

Nightingale Embarking on 1st Season as College Football Head Coach

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

July 10, 2024

CJ Nightingale's family values, small-town upbringing and Christian faith steered the Mendon native into a career coaching college football.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosNightingale, a 2010 Mendon High School graduate, is busily preparing for his first season as Belhaven University's eighth football coach. He was officially named the Blazers' head coach seven months ago, on Jan. 1.

Belhaven, a Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi, competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.

Nightingale credits his love of coaching to his father Chris Nightingale and grandfather Charles Nightingale.

"It all started with my dad and grandfather. At one time they were both involved in coaching, and their general love for sports wore off on me," CJ Nightingale said.

Once CJ reached high school, his interest in athletics only intensified thanks to several people who made a big impact on him.

"I had the most wonderful experience attending school and participating in Mendon athletics,” Nightingale said. “We didn't always have the better athletes, but we were successful because of all the time and commitment put in by our coaches, teachers, administration along with parental and community support. Success is the result of many people who focus on the same cause."

Nightingale lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Mendon, earning four varsity letters in all three sports. He was named the St. Joseph Valley League's MVP in all three sports his senior year, and Mendon earned league titles in all three during Nightingale's senior year as well.

As a starting quarterback and defensive back his sophomore year, Nightingale led Mendon to the 2007 Division 7 football championship with the Hornets' 20-0 win over Traverse City St. Francis. Nightingale still holds the state record for career interceptions with 27.

Mendon had finished the 2006 season 3-6. A losing season remains rare in Mendon, and Nightingale stated it fueled the Hornets' title run the following season.

"I think losing is more difficult in football than in any other sport because of how much work goes into preparing for a season,” Nightingale recalled. “We were a very young team in 2006 and got punched in the mouth. It wasn't the best feeling, but it was a real learning experience and served as a big driving force that next season.

"All the hard times we endured the previous year served as a byproduct for our success in 2007. That team was unselfish, and not one player on the team cared who got the stats or accolades."

At Mendon, Nightingale played for legendary coach John Schwartz in football, David Swanwick in basketball and Glen Samson in baseball.

Lessons from Schwartz – a member of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Hall of Fame – and Samson have especially stuck with Nightingale into adult life and his own coaching career.

"Coach Schwartz had a way of getting everyone on the same page not just on the field, but he taught you how to be the best version of yourself off the field in every-day life. Coach Samson knew how to get his players in the right positions on the diamond to make us successful," Nightingale said.

"The environment at Mendon solidified my desire to become a coach and teacher. The best leaders are also the best teachers, and when you are surrounded by people like that it makes a big difference."

Nightingale attended Wheaton College in Illinois, where he lettered in football four years as a defensive back and return specialist. During Nightingale's career, the Thunder posted a combined record of 34-8 and qualified for the NCAA Division III playoffs when he was a freshman.

After graduating college, Nightingale taught history and spent two years as the varsity football coach at Richmond High School in Indiana. In 2016 he secured his first collegiate coaching job at Greenville University (Ill.) as a defensive backs coach, where he spent one season. He then served as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana Wesleyan University beginning in 2017 before returning to his alma mater Wheaton in 2019 as the Thunder's defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. Nightingale coached 24 all-conference players, 10 all-region performers and seven All-Americans over his four seasons at Wheaton, and the Thunder made the Division III playoffs all four years.

The head football coaching position at Belhaven became available in December 2023 when previous coach Blaine McCorkle moved on to Division 1 Northwestern State (La.). Nightingale applied and went through a three-week interview process before being selected as the program’s next head coach.

"I truly feel like God has called my wife Shanel and I and our family here for a reason. We are going to pour into Belhaven as deeply as we can and see what life brings us,” CJ Nightingale said. “As a college football coach, you have the unique chance to pour into your players spiritually, academically, athletically and socially. That's what is really special about this profession."

Belhaven's program has enjoyed a lot of success, especially the past three seasons with a combined 24-7 record, including a 9-2 finish last fall.

"I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program here at Belhaven. You don't sustain success, but rather you must be able to build on it," Nightingale said. "We are excited about this season after a great spring. This group of coaches and players got a lot done these past six months. We have had a lot of guys here on campus all summer working to get better. There are lot of goals in front of us that haven't been achieved yet. Two of those goals are to go undefeated in conference play and host a playoff game.”

CJ and Shanel have three children, including 5-year old daughter Charlotte, 3-year old son Trey and 14-month old daughter Coco. They are expecting a fourth child in mid-September.

2024 Made In Michigan

June 28: E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage - Read

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Mendon’s CJ Nightingale (2) celebrates during his team’s 2007 championship win over Traverse City St. Francis at Ford Field; at right Nightingale is pictured with his wife Shanel and children Charlotte, Trey and Coco. (Middle) Nightingale makes an open-field tackle against the Gladiators in the 2007 Division 7 Final. (Family photo courtesy of CJ Nightingale.)