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FOOTBALL: Catholic Central's Mach to enter Michigan Sports Hall of Fame

Novi Detroit Catholic Central football head coach Tom Mach (left) greets Birmingham Brother Rice football head coach Al Fraccasa before their regular-season game this past fall. Mach was recently elected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. (For The Oakland Press/JOSE JUAREZ)

Tom Mach has led Catholic Central to 10 state championships, the last of which came in 2009. Mach, shown here during his team's 31-0 win over Holt in a Division 1 semifinal game that year, led his team to a 14-0 record that season. (The Oakland Press file photo)

When it comes to football, Tom Mach has lived an unexpected life.

He never played the game in high school, yet became a starter at Wayne State.

He never anticipated coaching football, but became a valuable assistant after being invited to give it a try.

He was very unsure of what to expect when he applied for his first head coaching position, but was hired and became one of the most successful coaches in state history.

Recently, Mach, who has guided Catholic Central to 10 state championships in the past 25 seasons, savored another unexpected experience.

Last month, he was named to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, joining recently-retired greats Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) and Jason Hanson (Detroit Lions) along with former Major League pitcher John Smoltz in the Hall’s 58th induction class which also includes Cranbrook graduate Alexi Lalas, a key member of United States World Cup and Olympic soccer teams who later played for several Major League Soccer squads.

“I was really kind of shocked when I found out, but in a pleasant way,” said Mach, who will be enshrined in February. “That’s not something I thought about happening to me being just a high school coach, but it’s a great honor to be inducted with some of best athletes in Detroit sports history. “I have not had much time to think about it until now because the last month has been such a whirlwind for me.”

That’s because Mach was busy leading Catholic Central to a 16th state-championship game appearance in his 29 seasons there. The Shamrocks fell to Clarkston in the Division 1 final and finished the season 11-3.

“I have been letting getting into the Hall soak in now and, for me, it’s just tremendous honor and humbling feeling, really,” he said. “This kind of thing does humble you. I mean, to be in the same Hall of Fame as athletes who were my heroes like Al Kaline and Gordie Howe is amazing.”

Considering his credentials, Mach should hardly be amazed about taking his place in the MHSHOF.

With a 344-88 career record, Mach is fourth on the state’s all-time victories list. Of his 10 state championship teams, five finished the season unbeaten. The Shamrocks have also captured 17 Catholic League titles, qualified for the playoffs 24 times and have had just two losing seasons during Mach’s tenure.

Along the way, Mach has coached five NFL players and current New Orleans Saints' tight ends coach Terry Malone.

“Catholic Central’s teams have always reflected Tom’s persona – tough, no-nonsense, come-right-at-you power football and he has had tremendous success with that formula,” said George Porritt, longtime coach of Shamrocks’ Catholic League rival Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. “He runs his program the right way and you can always count on his teams to compete hard and with class. Tom is also a great representative of the Catholic League, just a great person and tremendous football coach. I am not surprised at all he was selected for the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.”

Typical Mach, he was quick to credit the athletes and assistant coaches for the role they have played in his success.

“One of the best things about coaching is seeing the kids really put in the time and effort it takes to be successful along with seeing them do things the right way and learn life lessons from football,” he said. “We have been blessed to have lot of talented, hard-working kids who dedicated themselves to getting better each week, especially with the tough schedule we always have. I am also lucky to have such a great coaching staff and some of them have been here a long time because one coach can't do it all."

Mach played middle school football, but attended a seminary high school (Sacred Heart) that did not offer the sport. He was fine with that, but got the itch play football again when he began attending Wayne State.

Somehow, Mach convinced the coaching staff to allow him to attempt to walk-on to the team and he made it. Mach eventually became a starting defensive back and was used at tailback as well.

“Luckily, the Wayne State coaches gave me a shot and it led to a very positive football experience,” Mach said. “I learned a lot from the coaches about the game which has helped me over the years.”

In the months following Mach’s college graduation, some friends he grown up with in Berkley were coaching at Southgate Aquinas and invited him to join the staff. Mach accepted their offer and in the fall of 1970, his Hall of Fame coaching career began.

“I found out, I really like coaching and playing a role in kids’ lives,” Mach said. “After one year of coaching, I decided what I really wanted to do was become a teacher and coach.”

To that end, Mach, who had earned a sociology degree from Wayne State, returned to the school and earned a teaching certificate.

After helping Aquinas to a 36-12-2 record in his six seasons there, Mach learned Catholic Central was looking for a head coach.

He decided to go for it, taking the time to write down his coaching philosophy.

"When I applied for the job, I basically wrote a little book about what kind of coach I intended to be and the values that would guide the program," Mach said. "I was not sure what to expect, but a week later they called and wanted to hire me. Then, it started to sink in and I was like 'whoa, do I really want to work this hard', but the opportunity was a great one."

It was goes without saying that Mach, then 29, was a great hire. The Shamrocks went 7-1 in his first season after finishing 2-6 the year before. Just three years later, CC captured its first state championship.

"I thought if I lasted five years, I would be going pretty good," he said. "The administration and the support has been tremendous and has allowed us to do what we feel is best as far as running the program and hire great assistants."

Now 66, Mach, who retired from teaching about five years ago, does not plan to stop coaching anytime soon.

"I re-evaluate where I am at after every season, but I still enjoy having an impact in kids' lives and coaching football too much and I'm not ready to retire," he said. "The kids here have been great from the first day in knowing that they have to work for everything they want and the success has followed."

For Mach, however, coaching has always been about more than winning games.

"As far as how I want to be remembered as a coach, when people ask what I did besides winning games, I can tell them my staff and I coached every kid like they were our own son, got the most out of them and gave them tools for life."

Last Updated: 12/20/2013 6:13:57 AM EST

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