The e-mails and texts came in like a flood on Wednesday afternoon. The word of Ernie Zeigler’s ouster as head coach at Central Michigan University was received in Flint with both fear and excitement — fear of losing an institution in the city and excitement about the possibility of Steve Schmidt building a mid-major powerhouse at his alma mater.
This morning, I had a meeting in downtown Flint and once again heard talk about CMU’s search and how Flint’s guy might just be the right guy (he was born in Lansing, but we claim him now). A friend of mine and acquaintance of Coach Schmidt heard the news and reacted in the same way many others have: It’s time to take it to the next level.
The “it” is the basketball tradition at Mott that folks around here believe can be replicated just about anywhere.
Over the course of the last six years, I’ve had the closest view possible of Schmidt’s basketball program at Mott without actually putting on a jersey. I know the program inside and out, I’ve seen the blueprint and I know why he wins. This man’s world isn’t bounded by lines of latitude and longitude, just laces. His life has been devoted to the game we all love and, for this devotion, he’s earned the respect and admiration of fans, fellow coaches and an entire city that identifies with the game perhaps more than any other.
The man I spoke to early this morning put it best: “Coach Schmidt is married to the game.”
In the summer of 2007, I was working as a reporter for the Flint Journal and I was with the team in the locker room after they secured Schmidt’s second national championship. That summer, Schmidt was a finalist for the Central Michigan job that ultimately went to Zeigler, a promising assistant who coached with Ben Howland at UCLA. It was very clear at that time that Schmidt had struggled over the course of the summer with the idea of leaving Mott, and he told his team as much. He was never comfortable with the prospect of saying goodbye to a team he knew was destined for greatness. The Bears won the title and nine of those players, kids from Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn and Flint, went on to play D-1 basketball.
Coach Schmidt is a great recruiter who has had a tremendous amount of success in the Midwest and has even branched out to find players in the South. He has graduated players to high-major conferences including the Big Ten, Big East, SEC and ACC. Many of his players have found success at the mid-major level over the years including in the MAC.
During his career he has coached 15 All-Americans and three National Player of the Year Award winners. Sophomore John Taylor, a guard from the west side of Chicago, has a great chance to be his fourth.
I could tell you a lot of stories that would outline the above mentioned blueprint in words, knowing that the mark of a great coach is more than just about wins and losses; but, I also know that coaching at a high level is a bottom-line business and winning championships is the difference between good and great.
Here’s what Schmidt has done since his last interview with CMU:
- 2012 — Conference, State, Regional, National Champions (35-1)
- 2011 — Conference, State, Regional, National Runner-up (33-3)
- 2010 — Conference, State Champions (26-4)
- 2009 — Conference Champions (29-5)
- 2008 — Conference, Regional, State and National Champions (35-2)
- 2007 — Conference, Regional and National Champions (35-3)
That’s 19 championship trophies.
There’s nothing more he can do at this level. A couple years back I remember hearing his longtime assistant respond to a question about when Schmidt would get his opportunity at the D-1 level.
“When some program gets tired of losing,” he said.
It takes a winner to make a winner, and the boldness demonstrated by CMU earlier this month tells me the Chips are tired of losing.