NOVAK: In 16 years, Stanger did Dowagiac proud

Last Monday, Dowagiac Athletic Director Brent Nate found out that he was going to have to do something that terrifies most in his position.

He was going to have to hire a new football coach.

In some school districts, that prospect is nothing out of the ordinary. Some districts change coaches quite regularly.

But this is Dowagiac, and you do not just simply hire a football coach and hope he pans out for a few years.

You hire a football coach at Dowagiac to continue the rich tradition of Chieftain football. You hire a coach you will have around for some time and missing on such a pick can come back to haunt you.

The reason I say all this is because in the past 29 years, Dowagiac has had two football coaches.

That is right. Two coaches over the span of nearly three decades.

There are very few schools, especially in southwest Michigan, who can make that claim.

In both cases, Bernard Thomas in 1988, and Mike Stanger in 2003, replaced highly successful coaches.

Thomas replaced Denny Dock, who was his college roommate at Western Michigan University in the 1970s and his coaching mentor.

As we all know, Thomas went on to achieve great success at Dowagiac with a school-record 109 victories and the school’s only state championship in 1990.

We also know that Stanger followed Thomas as Dowagiac’s head coach. Mike has carried on the rich tradition of Chieftains football, having amassed 101 victories in his 16 seasons.

But the measure of a man and his success is not judged in my book by wins or losses. It is judged in the character of the man and how he runs his program.

Let me tell you Dowagiac football fans, Mike Stanger can stand right beside all of the legendary coaches this district has had in its history with his head held high and shoulders back.

Mike has more than done this program and this community proud.

He has been a leader of young men, something that ranks high on my list when looking at a person’s character.

He has helped scores of players go on to the next level, not only to continue their football careers, but earn college educations. Nothing is more important than the last half of that sentence.

I do not care how rabid a high school football fan you are, when all is said and done, getting kids the opportunity to continue their education at the next level should be at the top of the list.

Like the coaches before him, Mike put in countless hours of hard work to prepare his teams as best he and his staff could. They put hours in the weight room during the offseason and they spent hours away from their families coaching other people’s children.

No one in Dowagiac should ever question the amount of work that Mike and his staff put in over the past 16 seasons to try and make the Chieftains successful.

They should be applauded for their work, which includes an undefeated season in 2012, only the fifth one in school history.

Whether or not you liked the Xs and Os on Friday night or even some of the results, including this year’s 4-5 record, no one in his community should be happy about losing a quality football coach.

I have seen results in other communities, some of which we cover on a regular basis, who demand they replace the football coach because they are not winning conference championships or making long runs in the post season.

Mike Stanger, his staff and the players who suited up each Friday night did this community proud over the past 16 years.

Dowagiac qualified for the playoffs in 11 out of the 16 years that Mike was the head coach, including six of the past eight seasons.

Look around southwest Michigan and tell me how many teams can make that claim. Tell me how many head coaches have come and gone over that same span.

Dowagiac, you have been blessed to have Mike Stanger was your football coach for the last 16 years and I have been fortunate enough to call him a friend.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at

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