For decades, Tom Mach was there.
No matter which year they graduated, hundreds of former Detroit Catholic Central players (from the Detroit, Redford and Novi locations) knew that their football coach would be there when they visited each fall.
The school said that Mach is retiring after 41 years. A few former players shared their stories of Mach with the Free Press:
• Terry Malone, Purdue tight ends coach, who played under Mach in 1976 and 1977: “The biggest thing in my memory was, when Tom took over as head coach at CC, here was a guy who came in and was fiery, as tough and as competitive as anybody I had ever been around. He really changed a lot of us, certainly changed our work ethic and how we approached things and was a tremendous influence right from the get-go and taught us how to be winners. … He really has not changed. He answers the phone, and he’s one of the most humble guys I’ve ever been around, for having as much success as he has. A couple years ago (in 2014), he got put into the Michigan (Sports) Hall of Fame, and my brother Tom played quarterback for him about 10 years after I got out, and he said we ought to go surprise coach Mach. I flew up from New Orleans, Tom flew from Philadelphia, we walk into the Hall of Fame, and there were 6-7 guys getting inducted, and we walk up to coach Mach, and he looked at us and said, ‘Hey, the Malone boys. Who are you guys here to see?’ Serious as a heart attack.”
• Jeff Szajnecki, starting receiver, 1986-87: “I loved coach Mach. He was fiercely competitive without being overly emotional. He maintained an even keel. And he was so consistent over so long. Being a wide receiver, you know we never passed much. Same in 1987 as 2015. But I was always trying to sell him on calling pass plays, like any wide receiver would. Every time he would call a pass play, he would say, ‘Better catch it, Szajnecki,’ with a smile. I regret not winning him another state title; we were so close. The toughest part of playing for coach Mach were the practices. Games were easy. Practices were brutally tough and physical. We were always prepared, and he was a guy you didn’t want to disappoint. He kept you on your toes at all times. Wish coach Mach the best in retirement. Great coach and great man.”
• Sean Griffin, tight end, 2000-03: “We played other teams that had a lot more talent than we did. Southfield, my last year, they had seven guys go D-I. The one thing coach Mach always did was he harped on us being a good team and playing together. They developed us well. He just knew how to build a team. … I remember the first time I talked to him, I was nervous to be around him, just because he was such a legendary coach. … He was pretty well-reserved. Coach Mach was kinda funny when you got to know him but was an awesome guy. I was very fortunate to play a career with such great coaches, people who developed you on and off the field and your character. … It was always about being perfect. We played Canton my senior year and we were blowing them out at this point, and Derick Brooks returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and I was peeling back and I laid some guy out — it was well behind the play. And he grabbed me and he (yelled at me.) It was a dumb play. No matter what point of the game it was, the guy was always expecting us to be a certain way.”
• Jeff Wiska, offensive lineman, graduated in 1977. He sons Ryon (2006) and Garrett (2011) also played for Mach: “I have coach Mach notes and coach Mach pieces on the wall next to my office. … To this day, I continue to, every day, read his thoughts. … Tom Mach was the most influential, outside of my family, in my life, even though I played for him one year. We’ve stayed close friends for the last 41 years. I look up to him. … Above all else, self-accountability, integrity, character, perseverance. … He looked like a senior (in 1977), he was very, very young. After that first meeting, seeing how prepared he was an how inspirational he was, I walked out of there and said, ‘This is a 28-year old version of Vince Lombardi.’ Very inspiring, dynamic.”
• Mike Martin, defensive lineman, graduated in 2008: “The guy has done so much on the football end of it with all his wins. But the way he has an impact on guys in their lives and guys invite him to their weddings and bunch of my friends who went to CC got married in the past few months and he’s been at every single one of those weddings. That just tells you how much everyone respects him and loves him. I remember when I was going through the recruiting process and I was sitting in his office and asked him, how should I deal with this, the offers and coaches coming in? He’s like, ‘Mike you put the work in and you made the plays. The ball’s in your court. Don’t let this process fluster you or stress you out. You should enjoy the process.’ I remember him keeping me calm through that entire process and being there the entire time and have me bounce questions off him. He met with all the coaches… He was someone I was able to sit in on all those meetings and hear what he had to stay. It meant a lot.”
• Matt Godin, defensive lineman, graduated in 2012: “I just talked to him tonight, he had the same energy. He loves the game, he loves Catholic Central. For me, I didn’t notice any slowing down. Everything he taught me when I was at CC. He instilled the football culture there. Hard work, dedication, playing for the team, all the things you should build your football program around. Those things stuck out with me. And he always pushed me too to be the best player I could be. I give a lot of the success that I’ve had to what he’s helped me out with. How would describe him? A good man, a strong man, a strong coach who truly loved the game of football and truly cares about his players. He changed a lot of guys’ lives and made them better.”