By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
HUDSONILLE – Some critics weren’t fond of the decision to hire Shane Fairfield as head football coach at Muskegon High School.
They thought he hadn’t really paid his dues to take control of the state’s winningest football program. Sure, he was head coach at Holton for a spell, but how could administrators put the fate of mighty Muskegon in the hands of a guy named Shane Fairfield?
This guy was no big-name coach with an abundance of fruit on the tree. For sure, this guy was no Dave Taylor or Tony Annese.
But three years ago, Fairfield slid into the hot seat and started working to prove himself. He built solid relationships with players, worked closely with his loyal assistant coaches and accepted the blame when the Big Reds stumbled on the playoff trail.
That’s why Saturday was such a special day as Muskegon defeated Caledonia 34-21 to earn a spot in Friday’s Division 2 state championship game at Ford Field.
You could see joy in Fairfield’s eyes as the football-crazed fans at Muskegon roared their approval after the final buzzer.
Fairfield silenced them for another week.
My hope is the Big Reds put it all together against Birmingham Brother Rice and they reap the rewards of a great season.
Football means so much to the Muskegon community and the players who proudly wear the Muskegon uniform.
“This means everything to me,” said a teary-eyed Demetrius Brown. “I love this game. We got this game today, but next week is the game we really want.”
Fairfield won’t let the Big Reds rest until this journey is finished. He’s displayed strong leadership skills worthy of a championship head coach or corporate president.
“He pushes us and works us constantly to be better,” Brown said.
“He pushes you and drives you until you can’t go anymore,” guard Noah Tozer added. “We need that drive. He’s been like a second dad and that means a lot to me. He deserves his credit right now.”
Fairfield is a typical football junkie. He learned the game in the tough streets of Muskegon and starred on the field at Muskegon Catholic Central.
His job now is to help Muskegon capture a state title in the same way as Annese, who delivered championships in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
“I want to keep the racecar on the same track Tony built,” said Fairfield, the superstitious coach who wears the same clothes and parks in the same spot on game days.
“It’s just hard work and outworking my opponents. I’m not afraid to call and get advice from others. A good leader is willing to ask for help. And, if you surround yourself with good people, good things happen.”
Enter Brent White.
Fairfield and White crossed paths in high school. Fairfield coached White, and then the two have coached together since 2003 with the Muskegon Thunder, Holton Red Devils and Big Reds.
White calls the plays as offensive coordinator and Fairfield gives him the blessing to call his own game.
“He’s a guy who lives and dies for kids,” White said of Fairfield. “He’s easy to work for. He’s a guy who respects his coaches and knows that any decisions are for the kids.”
Oh, and I bet you didn’t know that Muskegon earned academic all-state honors last season under Fairfield, who believes study tables and education are just as important as touchdowns.
Win or lose on Friday, Fairfield has proven himself worthy of sitting in the hot seat at Muskegon.
And critics should give thanks Thursday before turkey dinner that Fairfield has been way too busy the last three years proving them all wrong.