Cradle of coaches

Five Clintondale graduates will be MAC football head coaches this season

By: Thomas Franz | C&G Newspapers | Published August 14, 2015

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — If Youngstown, Ohio, is the cradle of coaches in college football, then Mount Clemens may be the same for high school football in Macomb County.

In Mount Clemens, there’s a residential road located off of Little Mack south of 15 Mile called Kemp Street. It alone is home to a handful Clintondale High School graduates who, along with a few other Mount Clemens natives, are now current head football coaches in the Macomb Area Conference.

Heading into the 2015 season, five former Dragons will be MAC head coaches: Chris Smith (Utica Eisenhower), Brad Nettles (Warren Cousino), Jason Charron (Madison Heights Lamphere), Ben Torres (Center Line High) and Dave Schindler (Clintondale). Chippewa Valley defensive coordinator Terry Wilson also played for Clintondale.

Although most of those five head coaches can be traced back to Kemp Street, the roots of their coaching tree extend to Honolulu, Hawaii, the hometown of longtime Clintondale head coach Bill Apisa.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1967, Apisa first learned of a thriving job market for teachers in Michigan through his brother, Bob, who was fresh off of helping lead Michigan State to a football national title in 1965.

Apisa acknowledged that he had to leave behind his family to take his first teaching job at Chippewa Valley Middle School, but as he went on to become Clintondale’s football coach, he would create a new extended family for four decades.

“When I left (Honolulu), I left behind my biological family,” Apisa said. “Looking back on it now, my old players and everyone else I come back to see is my extended family. Touching base with them every year makes me very fortunate that I’m a person they identified with not only as a coach, but as a father figure.”

One of his players who looked to him as a father figure was Wilson, who graduated from Clintondale in 1987.

“One thing he did, it was almost like he adopted all of us. A lot of guys we played with came from single-parent households, and he was always a father figure and a role model for a lot of kids, myself included,” Wilson said.

Apisa was also able to instill the values of the Mount Clemens community during his coaching career. A hard-nosed, blue-collar philosophy was the hallmark of Apisa’s program, and that has been reflected in his former players who are now coaches.

“Everybody knew everybody in high school. With football, it was a really blue-collar, working-class community, and it still is. I think football resonates with the working-class people anywhere,” said Smith, who is entering his fourth year as head coach of Eisenhower. “I think there’s a lot of mental toughness that comes out of some of these working-class schools like Clintondale.”

Nettles, who led Cousino to a division title and state playoff berth in his first year as head coach in 2014, echoed Smith’s sentiments regarding Apisa’s philosophy.

“We learned character, leadership, teamwork (from Apisa) — those are some big things,” Nettles said. “We learned to get after it on defense too.”

Dominance on defense was the one trait that each of the five head coaches shared during their time at Clintondale.

Nettles, Wilson and Schindler all played together on the 1985 and ’86 teams that went 14-3. Clintondale allowed just seven points per game in 1985 and 8.5 points per game in 1986.

Smith’s and Torres’ team in 1990 didn’t give up a point in seven MAC Blue games, and in 1991 they surrendered only 4.7 points per game in the Blue.

Charron’s 1995 team went 4-0 in the MAC Silver and gave up 12.6 points per game overall that season.

“It was always defense first,” said Torres. “We knew that growing up that if teams don’t score, they can’t win. That was one thing that we gravitated to; we wanted to be tough and physical. We wanted to display that on the football field, and we knew by going out there and playing tough, physical defense, we were going to put ourselves in situations to win football games.”

Putting defense first laid the foundation for many future coaching careers, as Apisa would welcome back his former players onto his coaching staff with open arms.

“A lot of them became coaches by coming in and helping me, and they stuck with it,” Apisa said. “They just blended in by the process of osmosis. I warned them that it would be a 12-month job because, as a coach, you have to plan for today and the future. I think they took that lesson and it stuck with them.”

Schindler accepted that warning from Apisa, and 10 years ago, he succeeded Apisa as head coach of the Dragons after being an assistant for 16 years.

In addition to leading Clintondale to five playoff appearances, Schindler has remained very proud of the accomplishments of his former teammates and other Clintondale graduates.

“I kind of get to a point where I’m at a loss for words. Being at Clintondale as long as I have, it’s great to see so many guys become head coaches, especially from a small school,” Schindler said. “We have five head coaches in the county. I don’t think any other school has more than two.”

With five head coaches and a coordinator in the same conference, there will be times when the former Dragons will have to face the reality of each other.

This season, Charron’s Lamphere team will take on Torres’ Center Line squad on Sept. 12. Smith’s Eagles will try to solve Wilson’s Chippewa Valley defense on Oct. 9.

While Schindler won’t be part of any of those games, he didn’t enjoy the experience of having to face Charron in a 2013 game.

“I don’t like playing against Clintondale guys. I have too much respect for them,” Schindler said. “We’re like brothers. Clintondale is a family. It’s the worst feeling going up against one of your brothers. I’d rather not play the game.”

Off the field, the coaches come together annually for a golf outing that has supported Dragon football for 32 years.

On Sept. 12, the coaches will be able to come together again as Clintondale dedicates its football field to Apisa.

“There’s no one else who’s done more for the place,” Schindler said of his old coach and mentor. “We just felt it made sense to have the field named in his honor. It was a unanimous vote.”

C & G Sports Writer Jason Davis contributed to this report.