Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
MUSKEGON — Shane Fairfield checked all of the boxes and then some en route to being selected winner of the 2023 Detroit Lions High School Football Coach of the Year award.
The longtime Muskegon High School head varsity football coach demonstrated success on and off the field. He developed players’ character, discipline, and football skill. He stayed committed to his team, school, and community.
Fairfield and his team exhibited resiliency during the season and in their biggest game. They overcame an 0-2 start to the 2023 campaign and ralled from a 14-point halftime deficit in the MHSAA Division 2 state finals on the way to a 33-21 victory over Warren De La Salle last Saturday (Nov. 25) at Ford Field.
The Big Reds (12-2) captured their second state championship with Fairfield at the helm and their first since 2017. Fairfield, 55, is 154-29 overall as Muskegon’s head coach and only three wins from passing Leo Redmond as the Big Reds’ all-time winningest coach in history.
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. The 900th victory came in Fairfield & Co.’s state-title triumph last weekend.
With Fairfield winning the Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Year award, Muskegon High School and the Big Reds’ athletic department will receive a $3,000 grant from the Detroit Lions and NFL Foundation. Fairfield becomes the Detroit Lions’ nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Football Coach of the Year.
Fairfield, along with the 2023 Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Week honorees and high school football media panel, will be recognized in an on-field ceremony prior to the Lions’ game vs. the Denver Broncos on Saturday, Dec. 16, at Ford Field. Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. North Muskegon’s Larry Witham was selected the Lions High School Coach of the Week this season in Week 6.
“I am very fortunate and honored to be part of such a traditionally strong program surrounded by amanzing players and young men throughout the years. I have been blessed with amazing coaches past and present as well,” Fairfield said.
“I would not be where I am without having a very supportive administration, teachers, and staff to share this award with.”
The Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Week and Coach of the Year program is in its 27th season. The program has award nearly $500,000 to high school football programs throughout the state of Michigan. Each award-winning coach during the regular season receives a $1,000 donation to his school.
Detroit Lions Coach of the Week and Coach of the Year award recipients are selected by a panel of high school football media members, including Mick McCabe (Detroit Free Press), Hugh Bernreuter (MLive Saginaw News), Bret Bakita (WOOD Radio-106.9 FM, 96.1 FM- The Game, Fox 17/Grand Rapids), James Cook (Traverse City Record-Eagle), and Scott DeCamp (CatchMark SportsNet).
Each of the Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Year panelists votes for the award recipient. A vote also comes from the results of the fan poll that featured all 16 head coaches of MHSAA 11-player state finalists and the two head coaches from the 8-player state champions.
Tony Annese was voted Detroit Lions High School Coach of the Year in 2006 after leading Muskegon to its second of three state titles during a five-year span.
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.
“Everyone has wanted us to give up and quit and not get here. ‘You’re going to lose when you get there,'” Fairfield said at the postgame press conference. “Like I said before we left (for Detroit), ‘People want us to fall apart, want us to break. We will not be broken today.'”
In addition to the state finals appearances, Fairfield has guided Muskegon to eight conference titles, 11 district championships, and nine regional crowns.
The 1988 Muskegon Catholic Central alumnus was a standout linebacker for the Crusaders.
Fairfield has been coaching football since 1991. He was head coach at Holton High School for five years. He also was head coach of the Muskegon Thunder professional indoor football team. Prior to becoming head coach at Muskegon in 2010, Fairfield served as the Big Reds’ defensive coordinator.
More than the wins, losses, or state finals appearances, Fairfield has devoted his life to mentoring young people. To Fairfield, what he does on the field pales in comparison to how he helps his players and shapes their lives off the field. He’s a father figure for many, setting them up for success in life and giving them experiences they might not otherwise get.
Fairfield put everything in perspective after the latest state-title conquest, which was the seventh championship in the MHSAA playoff era and 19th in Muskegon High School football history.
“Losing in the state finals or winning — same for De La Salle, I’d tell them the same thing — it doesn’t define who you are. This doesn’t define who we are,” Fairfield said. “Winning a state championship in 2023, I hope, isn’t the best moment in these young men’s lives. I hope this is one moment of several.
“And if they don’t have big dreams, big goals, to use this to pole vault them into their futures and into successes, then I’ve failed them as a coach. I think we’ve learned so much from the losses and all the kids that have been on those teams have done great with themselves and the’ve gone on to college and graduated and they’re entreprenuers.”
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