By DOUG DONNELLY
Hall of Fame coach Ernie Ayers is stepping down as football coach at Sand Creek High School.
Ayers began telling school administrators, his staff, players and the community recently that his reign of 38 years as the head football coach for the Aggies is over. He is retiring as a teacher at the end of the school year as well.
“My time here has been a gift,” Ayers said. “It’s been an amazing experience for me. It’s been two-third of my life.”
Ayers is a Sand Creek native who graduated from the high school in 1971, playing football for head coach Landin Condon. He went to Olivet College for his bachelor’s degree in education and returned to Lenawee County and put his name on the substitute teacher list. Sand Creek Supt. Don Harland spotted it when the district had an opening.
“I hadn’t really planned on coming back,” Ayers said. “I never dreamed of coming back. Supt. Harland saw my name and called me in for an interview. That’s how I first started teaching.”
He spent a season at Deerfield as a junior high assistant football coach, then joined the Aggie staff under head coach Ken Wilson. He was an assistant two years, then got the head coaching job when Wilson left.
He took over the Aggie program in 1979 and he built the program into a Tri-County Conference powerhouse that was recognized around the state for its outstanding program. The Aggies won 14 TCC titles and made 20 playoff appearances under Ayers. They reached the state semifinals eight times and lost in the 1992 state finals, the year in which the Aggies went a school-record 12-1.
His record is 273-124-1 overall and 180-72 in the TCC. His teams reached double digits in wins eight times, including four straight from 2004 to 2007.
“He’s obviously the dean of coaches in the TCC,” said former Morenci coach and athletic director Jim Gilmore. “Everyone respected Ernie and appreciated what he was able to accomplish. And, if any coach ever needed anything or had a question, he was always willing to sit down and talk to you or help you out.”
He was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2002, and has continued to coach since. In addition to being the winningest football coach in Lenawee County history, he’s also the winningest coach in the TCC. The Aggies are coming off a rebound season of sorts, going 9-2, finishing second in the TCC and advancing to the district final. The Aggie had won a combined eight games over the previous four seasons.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people,” Ayers said. “Bob Arnold, Mark Carlton, Derek Hewitt and more recently, Sid Disbrow and Scott Gallagher and Scott Pigg … it’s a long list. We’ve had a lot of good assistant coaches.”
Eric Wilson played for Ayers and coached with him several years.
“I absolutely loved playing for Mr. Ayers,” Wilson said. “He always pushed you to get the best out of you and wouldn’t allow you to accept anything less. I loved that about him. Coaching with him, you got to see the other side and how he cared about the kids and wanted them to come out of his program a better person.”
Keith Covey played and coached at Sand Creek and later coached at Madison. He still has the football – in a case – from a game in which he was coaching against Ayers and won.
“I respected him so much,” he said. “That game, winning against my old school and Coach Ayers meant a lot to me. I always admired his demeanor and personality with the kids. I try to model myself after that when I coach.”
Ayers, who was named the Associated Press Division 7 Coach of the Year in 2006, said there was ups and downs during his time, like any high school would see.
“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “We’ve had great support from the administration and parents. There are always peaks and valleys. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Sand Creek had multiple All-State players during Ayers’ tenure, including quarterbacks Eric Boring (1989) and Jason Boring (1992). Others included Scott VanDeVelde (1987), Josh Bailey (1991, 1992), Mike Holmes (1984, 1985), Mike Shadewald (1996), Chris Palms (2000), Jason Derby (1987, 1988), Gary Ford (1991), Chad Damon (1992), Dustin Scharer (1996) and Matt Williams (2004, 2005).
Sand Creek Supt. Steve Laundra praised Ayers for his professionalism.
“He is the ultimate professional,” Laundra said. “What an impact he made on the community and just a ton of kids’ lives.”
Coach Ayers also is the Boys Varsity Track coach. His 31 total TCC titles – combining track and football – are the most for any league coach. Ayers said once track season is complete, he’ll have knee replacement surgery and expects to rehab and continue coaching track. By making his decision now, Laundra said, he gives the district ample time to search for his replacement.
“Even in announcing his retirement, he is doing it with class,” Laundra said. “He cares about the district so much.”