MHSA(Q&)A: Mendon football coach John Schwartz

February 2, 2012

John Schwartz didn’t really want the Mendon football head coaching job when a group of players convinced him to take it before the 1989 season. And his first contract started out on a napkin. The rest is history.

Mendon won its 11th MHSAA football championship this fall, downing Fowler 33-0 in the Division 8 Final, to tie for third-most football titles won by one program. Schwartz has coached in the program for all 11, including 10 as head coach, and his record of 236-39 gives him a winning percentage of .858, tops in the MHSAA record book. He recently was selected as this year’s recipient of the high school Duffy Daugherty Award, annually given for career contributions to the game. He follows recent winners Ralph Munger of Rockford and Herb Brogan of Jackson Lumen Christi.

His Mendon teams have had just one losing season. And although he retired a year ago after 36 teaching middle school science, and then fought off cancer over the summer, he has no plans to leave his post on the Hornets’ sideline.

How would you characterize your program?

I think we have very good coaches and I think the kids respect the coaches, and they know the coaches think more of them than just being football players. They care about them. We have their attention, and what we really try to do is form a team concept as soon as we can. We try to stay away from giving any one person too much recognition. We don't give out MVP awards at the end of the year. It's a program where we're all in it together: coaches, kids and community. We try to get the best out of the kids, give the kids the best shot we have at being the best we can be.

How does a small school continue to reload every season?

My first year there, the first thing I did as a head coach was I started the junior high program. I think that's where everything starts. We even have the younger kids called the rocket kids, and those coaches come in and talk about (football) terms so when kids move from one level to another there's no re-teaching. Everyone has an ego, coaches have egos, and they like to do some things differently. But we don't have that. They do what we do. We give them a lot of flexibility, but we have certain drills we want to run. By the time we get them, these kids are in tune with what we are doing. The summer program also is something I started my first year as head coach too. ... It means that during the season we can concentrate more on teaching than conditioning.

You went from 3-6 in 2006 to 12-0 in 2007. Explain how you bounced back.

The losing season we had, we didn't have a lot of kids, and our two best kids were hurt early in the season and couldn't play. We never did bounce back. Even in that season, we were ahead at halftime in all but one game. We just didn't have enough to come back and pull the game out, and we had some very tough games. It wasn't a good season, but I thought those kids played awfully hard for what we had. We got a lot of experience, and it paid off the following year.

Our JVs practice with the varsity. When I work with inside linebackers, I work with (grades) 9-12. Kids learn quicker from kids than from coaches, as far as I'm concerned. ... Football's really changed. It's become a lot more complex. I think we have to delegate more and more every year so we can stay with the changes. It's too much for one person. I remember my first three, four or five years it was just three of us at the varsity level. The other two, neither one taught at the school. We were pretty successful right off the bat, and we started getting more and more interest from people. Now 9-12 we have seven coaches, and we have three at the junior high, and all the coaches but two have played for me. They know what I expect, what I'm looking for, what I want. ... And they want to win. I'd be lost without those guys.

Are there certain seasons that have meant more than others?

The first year I took the job, in 1989, we went undefeated and won a state title. A lot of those kids are very good friends of mine yet, and they're pretty special to me. They were a big boost to my program. In the '95 year, my son was a sophomore on that state title team. I remember a lot about that team.

They all have something they did very well. They either threw the ball well or played great defense or had a big line. When I hear a year now, I think about those teams.

You grew up in a small town (Colon) and have taught and coached in a small town. Was that important for you to do?

I've never taught anywhere else. I never felt I really had a reason to leave. I've gone through at least six superintendents since I've been there. The fourth or fifth said to me, "The only thing that bothers me about Mendon is these people think an awful lot of winning. There are other things." He asked me, "How do you feel about it?" I said, if they didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be here.

Who was your biggest coaching influence?

I would say Morley (Fraser, Jr., under whom Schwartz was an assistant for three seasons). Years before I got there, Mendon was pretty good in the early 70s, and then in the mid 70s football wasn't very good. I was the JV coach the first year, and the second year after two games they brought me up to varsity. The best thing I did was I told them I would not take the head job, but I'll assist. I knew (Fraser) was the kind of person and personality we needed there. It wasn't necessarily all of his football knowledge, but his energy and excitement that he brought to the game.

You said during the Finals postgame press conference that you'd battled cancer during the summer. How did you come back, and did you ever think that might be time to step down?

Everything's fine. I had coaches that took over. At the same time that that happened, I was retiring. If you retire in Michigan, you can't be at the school for one month. So I couldn't be at summer weights all the way through June. So my coaches did all the summer weights. But I had no intention of stepping down. If something (bad) came down ... but once they said they got it, everything went as normal.

After a championship season, how do you ramp things back up for the next fall and a new group of players?

When we go to the playoffs, we take all the JVs unless there are couple who don't want to go. They experience that and get an extra five weeks of practice if we win a state title. And they're excited about it. They want to do that. They’ve' tasted it, and they want a part of that the next year. We remind them it's not what you did, it's what can you do for me now. ... This is your year.

We talk about winning state championships from day one. A lot of people say we shouldn't do that, but why not? Isn't that the ultimate goal? I can't imagine telling a team we think we could be 7-2 this year. We expect to be 9-0 every year. Of course, that's not going to happen. But at same time, I think the losses make you better the following week. We've won state titles where we haven't won the league title. ... You get better.

PHOTO: Mendon coach John Schwartz talks things over with his players during the Hornets' 21-14 win over Decatur in the 2002 Division 7 Final at the Pontiac Silverdome.

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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June 28:
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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)