BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Sports Writer
Dan Fife hung up his whistle after 36 seasons as head coach of Clarkston Boys Varsity Basketball as he announced his retirement last week.
“I talked to my team today – my second family,” Fife shared on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 11, adding the 2017-2018 season was it for him. “I went to camps with them and have been going to open gyms, but it’s time for me to skidaddle.”
He said the biggest reason for retiring now is family, which includes being there for his sister and mother-in-law and seeing his 10 grandchildren more.
“My oldest grandsons play football down in Dallas, Texas, and I don’t get see them play,” Fife explained. “Then, I have my four granddaughters who are playing soccer. I want to be able to see my grandbabies play. I want to be able to. My job is to always be there for my family.”
He added he doesn’t get to spend time with them and he was missing time he and his wife, Jan, enjoyed raising his own three sons, Dugan, Jeremy, and Dane, especially when they were starting sports.
“If I am going to coach, I have to be 100 percent there and that’s like my family as well,” Fife said. “I treat them as I want to be treated. I want to coach there and I should be there – that’s how I have always done it. But these grandbabies are getting pretty important in my life. I want to spend time with them as well. I am going 100 miles per hour taking care of my family. It was just getting to be too much. My real family, I want to be able to see them play. My other family, they will survive.”
He added some of his grandchildren are disappointed.
“They said they can no longer call me Grandpa Coach,” Fife said.
His favorite memory will be achieving a dream he had while playing Clarkston basketball.
“I always dreamed about playing in the state tournament,” Fife said. “I went to every state tournament when I was in high school to watch them and dreamed of doing that. Winning the two state championships were great wins for me.”
“It was always my goal,” he said, adding when he applied for the job he put on his resume what he wanted to bring to the program.
“It was just a dream,” Fife continued. “Now it’s become reality. The fact our young kids growing up in Clarkston, it doesn’t have to be a dream for them, they realize it can happen. If it’s happened before, it can happen again. The younger kids say gosh I want to grow up to be like this player, play in the state championship. When I was dreaming, it was gosh I just want to get there. Now the fact we got there gives these kids who grow up in Clarkston that saw the game, that one day they want to be in one. It just continues the building of our program, hopefully, and the successes of our program.”
Fife finishes his career as head coach as the third-winningest coach in state history with an 703-170 record. During his 36 seasons, the Wolves won 30 district championships, 13 regional championships and two state championships.
“It’s hard to pin point any great win because we have had so many of them,” Fife continued.”The unfortunate part is remembering more of the losses than you ever do with moments of the wins, but you remember the game and the losses. You remember more about what you could have done and what you should have done. You very seldom get to enjoy your wins because you are immediately thinking about the next game.”
Each time he hit a new milestone of wins under his belt he attributed the success of the program to all of the players and who they become as adults as well as who they are as fathers.
“To be in this for so long, my trophies are the kids walking around representing Clarkston Basketball and the Clarkston community, who they become,” he shared back in March. “It’s really awesome. We have to have trophies for all the right reasons, but we also have to produce kids to be involved. I am so proud of all this. I couldn’t have the success without the support of the kids, their families, the community, the teaching staff, and the administration. The recognition is throughout the community.”
He added he was also happy to see so many of his former players come back to Clarkston and raise their families and give back to the community that raised them.
“What they are doing in life, to see what kind of people they are and I have been able to coach them. Just to be allowed to share with them who they are and what they have become in life,” Fife said. “Because athletics teaches you something about life, good and bad. Unfortunately the bad is the losses. I think you learn the most from negatives – how you respond and what you do to get through it. We have so many teachers who are former Clarkston athletes or former students who have come back and it used to not be that way. It used to be not cool to live in your hometown. and now it seems like so many are coming back to give back to what they were given. They want to give back and get engaged in the programs. For fear of forgetting someone, I had a lot of kids who are teachers are here now.”
Fife added everyone makes a big deal about his 703 wins but the losses stay on his mind.
“I can’t stand the thought of having more than 100 losses. Those losses drive me crazy.”
After coaching for over three decades, Fife will miss a few things.
“Practice,” he said. “I miss practices and being with the kids. I miss the locker room and the post game. I don’t miss pre-game. I am worrying if I am not worrying. I am still as competitive as I was when I was playing.”
Fife added he hadn’t imagined when he was playing for Clarkston he would have been coaching the team and for so long.
Fife graduated from Clarkston High School in 1967. He scored a total of 1,589 points when he played as a Wolf and was the first freshman to play varsity basketball for Clarkston.
“I was thinking the other day, I started playing high school ball in 1963 and I just want to take this time to thank the Sherman family, Jim Sherman, Sr. (Clarkston News publishers), they have said so many nice things about me over the years and supported our programs,” the coach said. “They followed me when I was at Michigan when I played in college. Then, when I was with the Tigers, then the Twins. They have done so much, so many nice things for me. I just want to thank them for supporting Clarkston and making Clarkston feel like home. I think also for all the readers as well, we have a paper who follows their children’s successes, whether it be academics or whatever.”
Fife continued his basketball career at University of Michigan. Then, he moved on to playing professional baseball for the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. He injured his shoulder during the off season with the Twins. Then, he went back to University of Michigan and was an assistant coach.
But he didn’t stay away from Clarkston for too long
He came back to Clarkston where he and Jan, his high school sweetheart and wife of 47 years, would raise their family of three sons Dugan, Jeremy and Dane.
“I have been fortunate in my career – getting the opportunity to coach for Mr. (Mel) Vaara and Mr. (Dom) Mauti,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more.”
Fife added coaching for Clarkston was special no matter if the game was at home or on the road.
“You see all the people from Clarkston because so many people follow us,” he smiled. “Then, you go to the state championship and see the whole town there and how much our businesses and families who don’t even have children are with watching us play and supporting us in so many different ways.
“It’s got to be one of the top athletic programs and school district in the state. What our kids are doing now and all of our successes with our students and our athletes it’s tremendous what our town, our coaches and our teachers have done here. For someone who moved here in 1957, and seen the changes it’s amazing. The amount of times my roommates in college who lived in Detroit thought Clarkston was in the U.P (Upper Peninsula) and here we are. Our kids are throughout the country representing Clarkston all the time everywhere. These families have done a great job raising their children.”