Dan Rohn was a football player at Grand Valley in the late 1980s when coach Tom Beck had a heart-to-heart talk with the youngster.
“I’ve never said this to a football player,” Beck told him, “but if you want to transfer, I will help you transfer, because you might be the second-best fullback in our conference but you’re never going to play because Eric Lynch is too good.”
Lynch was so good he spent five years as Barry Sanders’ backup with the Lions. Rohn knew Lynch was that good, but he was smart enough not to transfer.
“You know what, Tom,” Rohn said. “I’m a 5-9, 180-pound white kid. I didn’t really come here to go play at the next level. I understand why I’m here. I’m here for an education. I’m lucky enough to be here.”
Beck was flabbergasted by Rohn’s response. Most kids on scholarship want to play, no matter who is in front of them on the depth chart.
Rohn’s education took place on the football field and in the football office, where he learned from Beck and his successor, Brian Kelly, now the coach at Notre Dame, Todd Monken, now the coach at Southern Mississippi, and Jeff Quinn, who went on to coach at Buffalo.
Those were the mentors who shaped Rohn’s football philosophy, so the best thing Rohn ever did was remain Lynch’s backup.
Rohn’s Grand Rapids West Catholic team won its second straight Division 5 state championship this year with a 14-0 record. It is West Catholic’s third title in four seasons, and Rohn has been selected the Free Press’ Dream Team all-state coach of the year.
Rohn, 43, was the freshman coach at Northville for one year before moving to Fremont on the state’s west side. After a year as an assistant, he was head coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that had suffered through 11 consecutive losing seasons — five winless — and in nine seasons posted a 56-32 record.
He took a year off to dabble in sales with a restoration company before taking the job at West Catholic.
In eight seasons, Rohn has an 87-17 record with eight straight playoff appearances and five consecutive regional titles.
Rohn, also the athletic director, acknowledges the West Catholic community has been a good fit for him and his philosophy.
“We don’t have big, burly kids,” he said. “All our kids can run. All our kids are good athletes. They play rugby, basketball, soccer, track, baseball. That’s a big thing we preach around here: Go out for other sports. Be able to run, be able to bend, be flexible, be able to move, swim, ski — I don’t care what you do, do things.”
Football has been a major part of Rohn’s life since early in his senior year at Muskegon Orchard View.
“My mom passed away Nov. 15 my senior year,” he said. “Football was the kind of thing that saved me. Football is the thing that gave me the ability to get through school, get into college. It was my passion. If I didn’t have football carrying me and giving me the opportunity to be successful, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
Prep football honor teams!
Sat.: All-East, All-North
Find all teams at usatodayhss.com/market/detroit.
Turn to Page 10C for all-state honorable mentions.