By ALEX SZWARC
He coached a playoff game at the Pontiac Silverdome even before the Lions played in one.
In his 26 years as head coach at Troy High, Gary Griffith made it to the playoffs 10 times, including winning the state championship in 1994, going 12-1.
Earlier this month, Griffith parted ways with the Colts and took time over the holidays to reflect on his career.
“My first year as head coach was 1991,” Griffith said. Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator for 16 years and got his start with Troy in 1974. “Tom Conley was the head coach, and he gave me the opportunity to start my career. At that point it was an average football program, and with Athens opening that year, you split it into two. Neither one of us were powerhouses at the time.” In 1991, the team finished 5-4.
In Griffith’s time as head coach, they compiled a record of 14-12 against their rivals from down the road.
Two men had an influence early on in Griffiths career. Conley and Jeff Keller.
“I’m forever grateful to Tom and his family for all they meant to me and my career,” Griffith said. “I learned the passion of the game and how to deal with kids from Tom, and from Jeff I learned organization and preparation.”
Throughout his career, Griffith has always been defensive minded. “Somewhere around 1983, 1984, Jeff came to me and said ‘Griff, you’re going to take over the defense and you’re going to call it,” Griffith said.
Being the new coordinator gave Griffith a sense of greater responsibility, which he states is very important. “I think that’s how you learn, when you’re responsible for something I think you take it a little more seriously.”
In 1984 alone, Griffith’s defense shut out the opposition four times in nine games “We had a fantastic season in 1985,” Griffith said. “We went to the Silverdome and lost to Traverse City. What I found out then was when you get a bite of the pie, you get hungry and want the whole pie.”
In his first five seasons, Troy went to the playoffs four times. From 1992-1995, the Colts only lost five times. In ’92, the team went 10-0 before losing to Catholic Central in regionals. The next year, they started 9-0 and then fell to Dearborn Fordson by three points in pre-regionals.
“We had tremendous athletes in the 90’s”, he said. “We had great kids every year. We had one great group after another. We worked hard and held the kids accountable.”
1994 was when everything came together for Griffith’s team, and they won the state championship by beating Bay City Central 17-0 at the Silverdome. That year, Troy outscored their opponents 219-83 and their lone loss came to Waterford Kettering by three points.
“We had some pretty good chemistry,” Griffith said. “We had a lot of success which culminated in 1994. We were competitive with anyone in the state and things were going pretty good.”
In four post season games that year, the Colts posted a shutout in three of them and scored 94 points. In the semifinal game against Stevenson, the offense put up a season-high 37 points. That team had many players that went on to play college ball, including Adam Adkins who was a member of Michigan’s 1997 championship team what went 12-0.
In 26 years of being the head coach, Griffith’s greatest moments weren’t winning championships. Instead, what gave him the greatest joy was coaching his two sons, Kenny and Ryan. “I was able to coach my twin boys through high school.”
For anyone who coached as long as Griffith did, you are bound to go through some highs and lows. With Troy, it was the tale of two decades. The 90’s was a very successful time for the program, but recently, playoff appearances were hard to come by. Since 2000, they Colts made the playoffs three times, with their last playoff win coming in 2007.
“We hit a down cycle there for a little bit,” Griffith said. “We worked hard and coaches retired. We did the things we believed in and some of the other teams got better. I found out it’s not always gravy. There’s a downside to it.”
Now that it is all said and done in Griffith’s time at Troy, he gave a few closing comments on his career.
“The kids will say that I was passionate about football. I treated everyone fairly and demanded excellence. They didn’t always like me, but they respected me.
“I’m proud that many of my former players are now coaches and that those guys grew up and have a branch in the Troy High football program. Thank you to the former players, the parents, former coaches and my family. It’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t want to trade it for anything in the world.”