Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
MUSKEGON – Shane Fairfield is on the precipice of becoming the all-time winningest coach in Muskegon High School’s storied football history.
When he guided Muskegon to the MHSAA Division 2 state title with a 33-21 comeback win over Warren De La Salle on Nov. 25, it marked the 900th victory in Big Reds history. Fairfield has helped account for 154 of those wins as Muskegon’s head coach, only three victories from passing Leo Redmond for No. 1 on the list of the school’s winningest football coaches.
These days, Fairfield is racking up different things, like big-time awards and frequent-flier miles. After being voted the 2023 Detroit Lions High School Football Coach of the Year in November and honored at halftime of the Detroit vs. Denver game in December at Ford Field, Fairfield has been selected NFC recipient of the 2023 NFL Don Shula High School Coach of the Year award.
Fairfield is the first Lions Coach of the Year recipient to receive the Don Shula national award.
“It’s just one heck of an honor. I’m fortunate enough to be the one who’s the head coach here now. I’ve been around some amazing coaches in my career,” Fairfield said in an interview with CatchMark SportsNet. “It’s a tribute to every single player since I’ve been here as the head coach (since) 2014, and every player and coach before me. I don’t care if it was a coach that was 4-4 or 14-0 – whatever his career was, it’s all part of it.”
Andy Lowry of Columbine High School in the Denver area was named the AFC recipient of the 2023 NFL Don Shula High School Coach of the Year award.
The NFL Foundation, in partnership with Nike, will award both Fairfield and Lowry $15,000 grants for their programs and each coach will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
They’ll both be guests of the NFL at the 2024 Pro Bowl Games in Orlando this weekend. They’ll also attend Super Bowl LVII in Las Vegas and will be recognized at NFL Honors.
Each season, the NFL honors the top high school coaches from markets of NFL teams as nominated by their respective NFL organizations. This accolade is presented to high school football coaches who best represent character, integrity, leadership, dedication to the community, commitment to player protection, and on-field success. The award is named after Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history.
Lowry was nominated by the Denver Broncos. Columbine has been a perennial powerhouse at the 5A level. Under Lowry’s direction, Columbine captured its third state title in a 14-0 season. In his 30th season, Lowry earned his 300th career victory in September.
Fairfield said he’ll fly out today for Orlando. He’ll attend Pro Bowl practice on Saturday and “watch the guys works,” then he’ll be at the game on Sunday. He was told he’ll meet the likes of Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, and others at the Pro Bowl.
Fairfield said he will fly back home Monday, then on Wednesday he’ll fly to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl experience. On Thursday night, there will be an NFL awards show. On Friday, he’s invited to a luncheon and will be part of media-day festivities. Saturday will be a day for him to hang out and check out NFL- and Super Bowl-related activities, then he’ll attend the Super Bowl pitting the Kansas City Chiefs and San Fransisco 49ers.
The only thing that could’ve made Fairfield’s Super Bowl experience even better, he said, would have been the Lions being in the big game. The Lions lost to the Niners, 34-31, in last Sunday’s NFC Championship game after holding a 24-7 halftime lead.
“Man, it was (a bummer), it was,” Fairfield, a lifelong Lions fan, said with a chuckle. “Especially when it was, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to go see the Lions (in the Super Bowl).’
“Muskegon wins a state championship and then Michigan wins and then (the Lions) – what a representation of Michigan. (The NFC Championship) was a great game. I’ve been there – I know how they feel. I know exactly how they feel, but I’m excited to see them get right back on it. I’m glad to see that the OC (offensive coordinator Ben Johnson) is staying and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re going to do next season.”
Muskegon boasts the winningest program in Michigan high school football history and sixth-best in the nation at 900-289-43. Muskegon has been playing high school football since 1895.
In winning the Lions High School Coach of the Year award, Fairfield received a $3,000 grant from the Lions and the NFL Foundation for the Big Reds program.
Muskegon lost its first two games of the 2023 season to powerhouse programs: Rockford in Week 1 (27-7) and Warren De La Salle in Week 2 (40-28). Muskegon reeled off 12 straight wins to close the season, capped by the redemption victory over De La Salle in which the Big Reds trailed 21-7 at halftime but stormed back with a 26-0 second half.
Before this state championship, Fairfield was 1-7 in state title games. He guided Muskegon to the 2017 Division 3 state title with a win over legendary coach John Herrington’s Farmington Hills Harrison squad. Fairfield’s Big Reds lost in state title games in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2022.
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“The 900 wins is special. I think the 900 wins at the state championship game kind of made it more appealing, ‘This is a great program that we want to honor.’ And they’re honoring me as much as they’re honoring the program, I think,” Fairfied said.
“I’m the head coach. I’m the one who gets the praise for this, but I feel it’s more an honor for every Big Red, every teacher, educator, administrator, who’s been a part of this program since it’s been started and that’s what they’re recognizing the most is the tradition of excellence of what we have here at Muskegon.”
Much like Dan Campbell & Co. are building a winning culture with the Lions, Fairfield has done that with the Big Reds after following in the footsteps of some legendary coaches.
Coaching a tradition-rich and high-pressure program like Muskegon has its trials and tribulations, but Fairfield has weathered the storm.
Fairfield has long been a leader of young men and has given his life to the coaching profession and mentoring young people. Now he’s being recognized at the highest of levels.
“It starts with relationships. You have to show your kids – your players, your young men – that you care about them. That you truly care about them as individuals. And then you care about them as a team. And then you care about them as men when they leave here,” Fairfield said. “That has to be the foundation is relationships. You can’t not want to spend time with your players away from the sport. You have to be willing to spend time with the players away from the sport. You’ve got to spend time at movies, at dinners, bowling, at camps, fund-raisers, community projects. You’ve got to see each other in a different light besides coach and player. That starts the bond, I think, of what culture is.
“And then you instill a toughness – a toughness that we’re just going to be more physical and we’re going to be more mentally tough and prepared and we’re not willing to go without a fight. Every game we’ve lost in the past has sharpened our instincts. Every team I think we’ve played has realized, ‘That’s a tough football team.’ I don’t think we’ve ever lost a game or won a game and (the opponent has said), ‘That’s not a physical and tough team and, man, are they mentally just as sharp and prepared as anybody.’ That’s the culture I see that they’re bringing into that locker room in Detroit.”
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