When Bridgett Harvel walked into Bronco Lanes for a fundraiser in honor of her late husband Thursday night, someone was waiting for her.
Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio had made the trip from East Lansing to Warren to pay tribute to her husband, Detroit King football coach Dale Harvel, who suffered a fatal heart attack after a 7-on-7 scrimmage last Friday.
Because his MSU players will be arriving on campus Saturday, Dantonio will be unable to attend the 11 a.m. funeral at the Second Ebenezer Baptist Church. But he wanted to pay his respects to a man he has known for 25 years, dating to his days as an assistant coach at Kansas.
King was a regular recruiting stop for Dantonio while at Kansas, Ohio State and Cincinnati, and nothing has changed as the head coach at MSU. He always looked forward to seeing his friend.
“It was just him welcoming you into the school and making you a part of it,” Dantonio said. “This is a tragic loss.”
The two became friends when Harvel was Jim Reynolds’ defensive coordinator for 23 years. Harvel became head coach seven years ago.
Dantonio enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with Harvel, especially when they did not talk about football.
“That guy was a man of peace,” he said. “You could sit down and have a conversation with Coach about anything. That’s what I really loved about Coach. He wanted to know how you were doing. Whenever I went into King High School or whenever I saw him, we could just sort of sit down and talk about anything.”
Above all, Harvel was not a coach who wondered what a college coach could do for him personally.
“He had no agenda,” Dantonio said. “We’d go into his school or he’d come up to see us, and it didn’t have to be about football, it didn’t have to be about his player. It was just two people talking. He was a very easy guy to talk to. I think he related very well to his players.”
When Bridgett arrived Thursday, Dantonio took her to a quiet part of the lounge, and the two sat and spoke for quite some time.
Dantonio recalled his relationship with the man who guided King to last season’s Division 2 state championship, and she told him more about her husband of 27 years and the father of their three children.
“He’s a wonderful man to take time off and come here,” she said. “He told me about conversations he had with Dale. He enjoyed conversations with Dale, not only about football — personal conversations that they had. They were friends. They actually had a bond. They enjoyed the laughter.”
The fundraiser attracted a number of current and former King players, including Donnie Corley, a freshman receiver at MSU.
Corley’s leaping catch in the end zone on the last play of the championship game turned out to be the final play of Harvel’s career.
“Right after I caught the pass, we had a little celebration, and then I went up and talked to him,” Corley said. “He was crying because he was so happy. I’m just glad that we did it for him because all he ever wanted from us was to do our best.”
Throughout his career, Harvel was known as a no-nonsense coach who demanded the most from his players on and off the field. He held them to a high standard and expected them to be good citizens in the school and the community.
“First off, he was very caring; he cared about everything we did,” Corley said. “He made sure we stayed out of trouble. He was real from the start. He was never going to sugarcoat anything. He was going to tell you what you needed to do to get better. That’s what I loved about him.”
MSU’s assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett and wide receivers coach Terrance Samuel accompanied Dantonio on Thursday, as did MSU director of college advancement and performance Curtis Blackwell.
Harvel’s death was especially difficult for Blackwell, a King graduate. He attended King because Harvel is related, through marriage, to Blackwell’s godfather. Harvel assured him that he would keep an eye on the youngster if he attended King.
“He got me to come to King, and that changed my whole life,” Blackwell said. “Then he got me to coach after I graduated. He got me to come back and coach at King, and that’s what got me going and started my whole career off.”
While serving on Reynolds’ staff, Harvel earned the reputation as the top defensive coordinator in the Detroit Public School League and one of the best in the state.
He was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in March, but Blackwell knows that wasn’t what motivated Harvel to coach.
“The biggest thing was coach Harvel had his eyes set on helping young people in the community,” Blackwell said. “He didn’t want to be at a different high school, he didn’t want to be a head coach, he didn’t want to be a college coach. He knew where his place was in the community, and that’s what made him special.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.