Sunday, May 25, 2008

Following A Legend Was Fuhr's Calling

Fred Fuhr never asked for glory and he never asked for pity, either. All he asked for was a chance. He got his team to the cusp of success it had enjoyed for several consecutive years and watched a rival ruin it. A year later, his team took it right back.

Fred Fuhr did what some unlucky sole will be asked to do at Clarkston High School when Kurt Richardson steps aside. Believe me when I say there will be a day when Al Fracassa is no longer on the sideline at Birmingham Brother Rice. Basketball coach Al Poynter did it at Berkley when Steve Rhodes said goodbye. Poynter has since landed on his feet successfully at Oxford High School.

Fred Fuhr followed a legend, the icon of the football program at Royal Oak Dondero High School, a man named Ivy Loftin. That's Fuhr on the right of Ivy Loftin in front of the regal, main doors of Dondero High in 1993, when first published in The Daily Tribune.

Fred Fuhr passed away last week in Jupiter, Florida. He was 69. A small obit in the Tribune, still Royal Oak's unofficial city bible, carried a simple, one-line tribute: Mr. Fuhr was a long-time teacher and coach at Royal Oak Dondero High School.

I guess the North won the Civil War and John Glenn was a pilot, too.

In Fuhr's first season the Oaks went 1-8, but that one win was a 14-0 decision in the Pontiac Silverdome against hated rival Royal Oak Kimball. His second season was a winless 0-9 and the grumblings around 709 North Washington Avenue suggested replacement, not resolve. Fuhr did what any good coach did. He didn't stray from the plan, kept his nose to the stone and kept the faith.

Sound familiar? Isn't that what us sage, old adults impart on our own children? Guess what? It worked, because in 1986, Fuhr's Oaks did what most well-coached teams do. They responded resoundingly. After dropping a 17-0 opener to Ferndale's Eagles, the Oaks blanked Bloomfield Hills Lahser 18-0. The next week Dondero lost 35-6 to West Bloomfield, but responded with three shutouts over Rochester, Birmingham Groves and Southfield Lathrup by a combined count of 63-0. After pasting Rochester Adams 26-6 and surviving Troy Athens, 14-11, the Oaks had captured their first Metro Suburban Activities Association (MSAA) title in five seasons and were poised to earn the school's first invite to the MHSAA football tournament if they won the Oak Stump Game in week nine. The Oaks would certainly 'Kan Kimball' into submission the next week.

It didn't happen. A highly-motivated Kimball team came over to Dondero's Cass Field on a gray, dank November day and ruined Fuhr's coronation by punching the Oaks in the mouth for four quarters in a 14-6 upset. Trailing 14-0, Dondero roared to a fourth-quarter score only to miss the PAT. When they pinned Kimball in the shadows of the train tracks on 3rd and 16, quarterback Mike Siwajek found receiver Danny Holeton for 18 yards. First down, Kimball. A few plays later the clock expired and it was game, set and match, Kimball.

It was then that Fred Fuhr earned his school's respect. He shook hands at midfield. He consoled his team before meeting with reporters. Did he complain, offer excuses or say it was anyone's fault? Nope. He told reporters that the better team had won the game. He explained he had smelled trouble all week, that too many Oaks believed winning would just happen when Kimball came to push.

What did Fred Fuhr do after that game? He went back to work. So did his Oaks.

After another tough, one-possession loss at Cass to Ferndale to open the '87 campaign, Dondero rattled off eight straight wins. They authored an undefeated 7-0 chapter in the MSAA and overwhelmed Kimball in the Silverdome, 27-7. Fuhr would go on to win the MSAA in '91 and went to the playoffs in both '90 and '91. Three league titles, the only two playoff appearances in school history and 33 wins in six seasons after starting 1-17.

Fred Fuhr isn't going to be mentioned with Charlie Jestice, Tom Mach or Al Fracassa as a legendary metro area coach. He wasn't the man who was the one constant, like the lighthouse at the end of the pier standing tall year after year while the never-ending crash of waves passed by, representing one class after another, year after year. Fred Fuhr was the guy that took over at a school and made it his own without you knowing it.

Sometimes the glory, the pity and the headlines go to someone else. Schools open, close and get renamed. Years from now some old codger with more miles in the rearview mirror than a '57 Chevy will sit in a McDonald's -- whatever those look like in another 30 years -- and the word Dondero will be screened on his sweatshirt. By then it might as well say Mars to most people, because Dondero will be something heard of but never really seen with flesh and blood.

Here's to a man who did something great at Dondero, a school that had already seen better days and made it seem like nothing had ever changed.

That was Fred Fuhr.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

(Photo courtesy The Daily Tribune/Craig Gaffield)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a lineman under coaches Lofton and Fuhr in '72 and '73 and can tell you I have nothing but respect for both of them. When I messed up bad once at practice and whined to coach Lofton, he answered me back with a clipboard upside my helmet and made me run the Highland Park sprint after practice LOL. Ask any football alumnus you want and they will be happy to tell you what that was.
Coach Fuhr was tough, but fair. Didnt think he was a bad ass like our other line coach ( damn if I can think of his name ) who always wanted to know if anyone wanted to fight him. What an idiot.
Neither Lofton nor Fuhr will ever be forgotton by me.
If I have anything bad to say at all, it may be just one thing. We had a drill where we had to run full speed at a tackling dummy, which was being held, and slam into it head first. If you used your shoulder, you had to do it over again. I HATED this as it would feel like fire was shooting down my spine. Of course you couldnt complain, cause here would comr the sprints. I think this was in an era where not much was known about spinal cord and neck injuries and it was just something you did. To this day,35 years later, I have problems which I relate directly to that.
Thankfully those types of drills are no longer used. At least with my son they werent.
Other then that, nothing but the greatest years of my life.

Rick McCluskey
Class of 73

December 21, 2008 at 11:05 AM 

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