New Coach, Same Standard for SMCC

August 27, 2015

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

MONROE – It would be understandable if first-year Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central head football coach Adam Kipf felt like he was taking over for University of Michigan legend Bo Schembechler a year after the Wolverines won the national championship.

Kipf, a graduate of SMCC, said he doesn’t feel that way at all as he replaces his former coach and mentor Jack Giarmo, a local icon who retired after 17 seasons leading the Falcons, including last year when they won the MHSAA Division 6 title.

“I feel I’m replacing Coach Giarmo after a state title,” Kipf said with a laugh. “Coach Giarmo is a good coach. He spent 17 years here, and I spent 11 years of my life with him on a football field.

“It’s certainly not an easy task, but I’m not trying to be Coach Giarmo. I’m trying to be the best version of myself.”

SMCC got off to a winning start Thursday night with a 62-39 victory at Tecumseh, but it will need more than a season-opening victory to live up to the standard that was introduced by the former coach.

Giarmo’s teams were 144-54 in 17 seasons, made the MHSAA playoffs 13 times and captured five Huron League titles. The Falcons made the MHSAA Semifinals eight times and played for the championship four times, finally winning it all last year – when, at Ford Field, they also ended Ithaca’s national-best 69-game winning streak.

Then, Giarmo decided to step down, and Kipf was chosen as the new head coach.

“It wasn’t a total surprise,” Kipf said of Giarmo’s decision. “He had sort of let on that he might be thinking about it, so when it came out, I wasn’t surprised at all.”

“I don’t think there is any other job out there that would mean as much. There are other jobs that would have a lot of meaning to them, but coaching at your alma mater and having the tradition that we have here – having the success we have here – I think that’s just awesome. It’s tough for me to even put into words what it means to me being back at my alma mater coaching football.” – Adam Kipf

It certainly was not an automatic choice for SMCC to promote Kipf from the head coach on the junior varsity to head coach of the varsity. He went through several interviews before landing the job.

“They asked me, ‘How do you determine success?’ ” Kipf said. “I said, ‘There are two ways. One is wins and losses, and that’s OK. But the other way is seeing what kind of men they become, five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”

Kipf, a social studies and religion teacher at Monroe Catholic Elementary School, did not set out to become a coach and teacher. He went to Western Michigan University to play football and was pursuing another field, but he left after one year.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and then I got involved in coaching in 2003 with one of my former coaches,” Kipf said. “He was coaching his son in the Monroe Catholic Youth Organization, and he got me into it, and I enjoyed it. The next year, he went to Monroe High as an assistant and I went with him, so I ended up coaching two years there.

“One Friday night after a game at Monroe, two coaches talked me into going into coaching. They said teaching was going to be my best bet to get into coaching.”

With that in mind, Kipf went back to school and attended Eastern Michigan University. In 2010, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in secondary education. By that time, he was back with SMCC coaching the offensive and defensive lines on the junior varsity.

Kipf had been an offensive lineman and defensive tackle from 1998-99 at SMCC. He played for Giarmo and then joined his coaching staff in 2006, giving him a unique insight into the mind of the man who was most responsible for building the successful program.

“He was a stickler for details,” Kipf said. “He coached every last little detail, and I am finding myself on offense doing the same thing. Jack and I will talk, and I will seek advice on plays and blocking and things like that. We talk probably once a week football-related, and we will talk more than that about other things. We still talk football.

“He isn’t going to distance himself from the program. He has strong roots here. I think he misses football. I don’t know if he would admit it, but he misses football.”

“We’ve basically kept the same concepts that Coach Giarmo kept, but we’ve added a lot of new traditions into it. We’re getting new traditions. We’ve got a couple of new decals on our helmets, and originally we had our straight gold helmets.” – senior running back Justin Carrabino

When Kipf played at SMCC, the helmets were green with decals of yellow birds on them. Lately, the helmets have been without decals, but the birds have returned this year.

“To me, that bird, I worked so hard when I was a freshman to get that bird when I got to varsity,” Kipf said. “It was a thing of honor because you took those birds off at the end of the year and kept them. I still have them in scrapbooks.

“We have brought those back. With the gold helmet we’ve got green birds, but we didn’t put them on until two days before the first game.”

The decals on the helmets might be the easiest change to notice, and Kipf said there won’t be a lot of others made right away.

“I don’t know that I want to bring a whole lot different to the program,” he said. “I’ve added a few things here and there that are a little different than last year, but I’m not prepared to share that.

“We might throw the ball more, but finding people to catch and throw isn’t an easy task, especially since in the last 14, 15 years in the system it has been 95 percent run. I’m a big proponent of, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ ”

Not every change is going to be related to strategy or scheme. Everyone has a different personality, and Kipf’s high-intensity style could light a spark under the Falcons.

“He’s very vocal and gets into it with the players a lot,” senior guard/linebacker Hunter Coombe said. “He gets us hyped. He’s very intense. It’s good.”

The word intense seems to go hand-in-hand when describing Kipf.

“Practices are run with a lot of intensity,” Carrabino said. “There is a lot of physicality, but there is with a lot of defenses. You can tell by the tone of practice that it’s a lot different.”

“I don’t feel pressure coming off a state title because I know what we have and what we are capable of. People have high expectations and expect success. To me, success is more than a state title. If we go 14-0 but don’t get better, it’s a state title but it’s not successful. I want kids who are going to compete and get better every day, and at the end of the season, if they are better football players, better student-athletes, better Catholics, better Christians, than we’ve done our job. That’s success.” – Adam Kipf

Success breeds expectations, and MHSAA championships sometimes breed unrealistic expectations. Teams don’t win an MHSAA title every year.

The Falcons have made the playoffs 14 of the past 16 years with double-digit win totals during nine of them. The program has become not just recognized regionally, but statewide.

The players reflect the attitude of a new season and a new challenge and said they refuse to look back.

“We have to totally forget about last year,” Coombe said. “This is a new team with the same goal, obviously, but we aren’t thinking about it. We’ll just go week-by-week and game-by-game.”

Carrabino, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, echoed those comments.

“I think you have to prove yourself every year,” Carrabino said. “Nobody has a set spot. You just have to give your all in practice.”

Senior quarterback/defensive back Austin Burger feels the same way.

“We feel no pressure at all,” he said. “We feel like we’re a different team from last year, but we are trying to keep the tradition.”

Tradition is important at SMCC. Giarmo was a player on the 1980 team that went 9-0 but failed to land a spot in the playoffs.

Kipf is one of three brothers who played football for the Falcons. It’s family.

“We’ve got 12 years in my family of playing football at this school, and now this will be my 10th of coaching football at this school,” he said. “Twenty-two years I’ve been a Falcons football supporter either through my family or myself, so it certainly means a lot to me.”

Maybe it’s the tradition – or maybe it’s the “band of brotherhood,” as Burger called it – but something special seems to happen to a bunch of young football players who don’t necessarily look like they should be championship football players.

“We don’t always have the best athletes or the biggest athletes or the fastest athletes, especially in this day and age,” Kipf said. “We have kids who are undersized for the most part, but they have heart and they work hard, and that’s what made our program successful over Coach Giarmo’s tenure. Between him and (former defensive coordinator) Scott Hoffman, they brought out the best in guys.

“They had guys on the field you would think had no business being on a football field. They bring out the best in our kids, and our kids give them everything they’ve got in order to succeed.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at chipmundy@comcast.net with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary’s coach Adam Kipf and his captains stand together earlier this month (from left to right): Hunter Coombe, Justin Carrabino, Kipf, Riley Woolford, Mitchell Poupard and Austin Burger. (Middle) The Falcons’ helmets will feature decals again after going without during the program’s recent past.

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.

“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”

Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.

“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.

Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.

As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.

He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.

“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.

John GuilleanGuillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.

“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.

Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.

At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.

“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”

Great anticipation

Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.

In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.

Derek GriblerGribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.

“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”

Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.

“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”

In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.

“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.

“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”

Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.

“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”

Big shoes to fill

As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.

Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.

Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.

Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.

“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.

As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”

His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.

He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.

“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”

Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.

“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.

“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)