Graf brings his lengthy résumé and excellent experience to Cranes gridiron
BLOOMFIELD HILLS — It’s an admission he laughs about now, and given the scope and excellence of his career, with good reason.
The year was 1977, and Steve Graf was a young man still not certain where his professional path would take him. A friend who coached football at Granada Hills High in southern California offered Graf a chance to joining the staff in his spare time.
It took some major arm-twisting, Graf admits now, but he eventually gave in.
His role was simple, working with receivers and this young quarterback — who was very athletic and had a great arm — named John Elway.
That was Graf’s first coaching duty.
His latest is taking over the Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood program.
“You look back on your career, and it’s pretty interesting the way things work themselves out,” Graf, 53, said last week. “My first job was working with a future Hall of Famer. Now, I’m taking over the football team at a school known for hockey. … It’s amazing how things play out.”
Cranbrook is the latest edition to a very healthy résumé that covers 21 years of football coaching at a variety of positions, including stops at San Jose State University, Mount Senario College, Eastern New Mexico University and California Lutheran University.
He served as the head coach at West Texas State University from 1988-90.
This all came after his own standout playing career at Granada Hills and California Lutheran University.
After the 2000 season at San Jose State, he “kind of retired” from coaching.
But in 2009, he was hired by Northland Pines High in Wisconsin to take over the football program. Following the season, however, Northland dropped its athletics, and Graf was back on the market.
“I had a friend tell me I should look into Cranbrook, that it was the type of place I would really like,” said Graf, who also took over the school’s athletic director position. “I interviewed for the job right away and was fortunate enough to get it. This is the perfect situation for me.”
He inherits a team that was 5-4 last year, but lost its coach when Sean Clouse returned to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on a full-time basis. Graf knows the departure of Clouse was tough on the players, but hopes his abilities, as well as his energy and passion for the game, is a selling point for his new players.
“A résumé isn’t going to win me any games, but hopefully, it provides the type of credibility kids at this school want to see,” Graf said.
And credibility within the program is one of his top goals, taking notes from a perfect example down the hall.
“It all starts with the relationship a coach can build with his players,” he said. “You look at why we’re known as a hockey school, and it has everything to do with (coach) Andy (Weidenbach). That program is self-perpetuating because of his leadership and reputation. Kids talk about our hockey team; they want to come play for Andy. My goal is to build that sort of interest in the football program for the kids at this school. You have to get kids to want to play for you.”
Just how does he plan on doing that?
“I’m going to go out, and with my attitude, prove to them this is something important,” he added. “I approach coaching this game with a passion. If I can convey confidence in myself and knowledge in the game, I can prove to them that this will be an excellent experience for them as athletes and as young men.”
Success has accompanied Graf nearly every stop he’s made in his 21 years, and he expects the same at Cranbrook.
“I can’t give a date when we’ll be winning or how many games we’re going to win, but the expectations are here,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to learn about our players and vice versa.”
Graf knows his learning curve will have to be accelerated given the fact that Cranbrook has moved to the Catholic League for the 2010 season, with games scheduled against Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Dearborn Divine Child, Macomb Lutheran North and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of this job,” Graf said. “To get out there and work my tail off with the kids and strive toward that one common goal. You can’t help but feel good about it.”