It always has been easy to declare River Rouge’s Lofton Greene the greatest basketball coach in state history, but you run into problems trying to claim the same for someone in other sports.
But in hockey there is an unquestionable best ever — Trenton’s Mike Turner.
Turner became the second hockey coach in state history to reach the 600-victory plateau last weekend.
He trails Ron Baum of East Kentwood, who compiled a 623-219-30 record in 1973-2007. Turner’s record is 601-119-51, and he has won 10 state championships.
“To me, it’s personal,” said Turner, 63. “It’s a milestone for me to achieve. It just means that I’ve been involved in a lot of games … a lot of nights at the rink.”
Turner’s story is amazing on several fronts. He began coaching at Trenton in 1974, but left after he was pink-slipped in ’81. He regained the coaching reigns in 1995. Had Turner not been laid off, his victory total would be in the stratosphere by now.
In the fall of 2002, he contracted flu-like symptoms and had trouble with his balance. Doctors discovered a brain tumor, which inexplicably disappeared in February 2003.
He still experiences lingering effects with his balance and sight in his right eye.
“It screwed up my golf swing for a long time,” Turner said. “You’ve got to retrain that stuff.”
But it never messed with his coaching style, which always has been hands-on, although assistants Chad Clements and Greg Obrycki play bigger roles now.
“I still think I need to be on the ice to run practice,” Turner said. “My two assistants do a lot of the maneuvering, and I’ll call the team together and tell them what we’re going to do. Then I go to the side boards and try to get out of the way. It’s hard to stay on the ice and stay out of the way and not get run over.”
The most remarkable aspect of Turner’s career is that Trenton has been a closed district.
That means every player who has laced up the skates for the Trojans has lived in Trenton, the one true Hockeytown.
And Turner has managed to put together a championship-level team each season just as he is doing with this inexperienced team (13-9-1) in what is supposed to be a rebuilding year.
“I remember saying four or five years ago to the guys at CC, it’s great for the sport to see it grow,” Turner said of rival Detroit Catholic Central, “but it’s not so good for the guys who have been on top for so long that these teams have caught up.”
Truth is, teams might catch up to Trenton for a year or two, but they can’t sustain the consistent excellence the Trojans do.
And no team improves more from November to March than Trenton — the best indicator of coaching genius.
“I don’t try and trick it up,” Turner said. “I don’t try and make great changes. I just keep doing things and running practices the way I always do. We’re still Trenton, and we’re still a team to contend with. I do still think the same way every year in terms of how to prepare a team. I’m too old to change, I guess.”
Lofton Greene never changed either. That is why they are both the best ever.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.