Lenawee County’s 2 winningest coaches square off Friday

By Doug Donnelly/For The Daily Telegram

When Al Romano became Adrian’s football coach, one of his first responsibilities was to build a coaching staff. He immediately knew he wanted Ernie Ayers on his staff.

There was one problem with that scenario.

“There was no getting Ernie out of Sand Creek, I’ll tell you that,” Romano said.

The Maple coach would win more than 50 games over eight years. Ayers, meanwhile, was the Sand Creek coach long before Romano took the coaching job in 1988 at Adrian and remains there today. He has coached more years (38) and has more wins (261) than any coach in Lenawee County prep football history.

This week, Ayers just happens to face the second winningest coach in county history — Clinton’s Scott McNitt. Earlier this season, McNitt became just the second county coach to compile 200 wins.

“I’m sure Scott has had opportunities to leave and go somewhere else, too,” Romano said. “That the two of them stayed is a tribute to them. I first started coaching in 1975, and I’ve had the opportunity to coach at four different high schools and now Siena Heights. These guys have been doing it with one school. They are just both great coaches and great men.”

Romano and Ayers coached together in the early 1970s and actually lived in the same house for a while.

“I knew from very early on that Ernie was going to be a highly successful football coach,” Romano said.

Ayers became the head coach at Sand Creek in 1979 — just seven years after the Tri-County Conference was launched. He is 261-121 with 19 playoff appearances and 14 league championships. Counting his TCC championships as boys track coach, he has 31 all-time TCC championships.

McNitt, who played quarterback at Adrian when Ken Calhoun was the coach, became Clinton’s head coach in 1985. He is 200-110-1 in his 32 years at Clinton since taking over for Don Eaton.

Calhoun reached 108 wins at Adrian during his stint, making him the winningest coach in Maple history. Bill Kohn, who was an assistant on Calhoun’s staff when McNitt was the Adrian quarterback, has more than 175 wins as a high school coach, but counting only his stints at Lenawee Christian, Adrian and Morenci, he totaled 90 victories.

Ron Estes – the winningest coach in Blissfield football history with 76 wins – built a 12-5 record against Ayers and McNitt during his time with the Royals.

“Both great coaches, very respectable, total class,” Estes said. “The thing I remember about coach Ayers is we always played them in the season opener, and he ran the triple option. That was such a tough offense to prepare for. We’d spend all summer preparing for that game. And with Scott, he gave you so many looks and formations you never knew what was coming.”

Hudson’s Chris Luma is third on the county list with 160 all-time wins. He played for Tom Saylor, who went a remarkable 94-5-1 at Hudson from 1966 to 1976, then later coached two seasons at Morenci to put him over the 100 mark with 101 wins as a Lenawee County coach. Saylor was able to coach against both Ayers and McNitt in the TCC.

“It was an honor to coach against those guys, that’s for sure,” Saylor said. “Both coaches built and sustained successful football programs from the varsity to JV and on down. They were always organized and had their teams well prepared.”

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