Kurt Richardson still going strong at Clarkston as he climbs Michigan all-time wins list

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Kurt Richardson’s love for Clarkston High School, the community and definitely the football program continues to grow with each year.

Richardson, 67, is set to begin his 34th year as head football coach. He’s itching to get back to work later this month with his players after having that opportunity taken away from him due to the COVID-19 pandemic more than two months ago.

Players run onto the field as Kurt Richardson and Clarkston win the 2017 state championship.

Richardson has been a teacher in Clarkston’s school system for more than 40 years and is still a physical education teacher, saying he will retire from that job “when it stops being fun.”

And Richardson has no plans on stepping away from his football job anytime soon either.

“I enjoy the kids now as much as I ever have, but all the other stuff – paperwork and everything else – gets old,” Richardson said. “I still enjoy the kids, still enjoy my coaches, still enjoy competing against the other coaches.”

Richardson has a career record of 259-95 with his best work coming last decade when Clarkston was 94-26, making four trips to Ford Field to compete for the Division 1 state championship. Clarkston defeated Detroit Catholic Central (32-14) in 2013, Saline (33-25) in 2014 and West Bloomfield (3-2) in 2017, and lost to Chippewa Valley 31-30 in the 2018 championship game when he went for a two-point conversion after a late TD and came up short.

Richardson is likely to climb into the top 20 for all-time career wins in state history this fall, needing six to slip past Bud Rowley, who guided Oxford to 264 victories before stepping down last season.

More: Starting football practice on time Aug. 10 a top priority for MHSAA

Richardson knows his players will be motivated after a rare losing season (3-6), which put an end to a run of 16 consecutive state playoff appearances. Clarkston’s last losing season was 2002 (4-5).

Clarkston should challenge West Bloomfield for the OAA Red title as Richardson returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, including four-star seniors and two-way linemen Rocco Spindler and Garrett Dellinger, along with 6-foot-5 junior Mike DePillo, who is in his second year as the starting quarterback.

Consistency in the ranks 

Richardson made his head coaching debut at Clarkston in 1987, then earned a 73-25 record in the 1990s, 77-32 in the 2000s, and that 94-26 showing in the 2010s. He says it helps that he has a veteran coaching staff and a long list of former players helping out.

“It’s unbelievable how much it helps,” Richardson said. “We know pretty much what we want to do, just the fact that they’ve been there, and we’re all on the same wavelength. I think any head coach who has a program that has been successful will tell you that too.”

Kurt Richardson: “I still enjoy the kids, still enjoy my coaches, still enjoy competing against the other coaches.”

Richardson has put in new coordinators the last two years, but certainly not new to the program. Tony Miller stepped down as the defensive coordinator and has been replaced by Phil Price, who has been alongside Richardson for 28 years, coaching linebackers in previous seasons.  

Rich Porritt – brother of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s legendary coach George Porritt – stepped down as offensive coordinator two years ago, but is still helping out with the offensive line, along with Justin Pintar.

Ryan Kaul was elevated to offensive coordinator after coaching the quarterbacks and receivers in previous years. Kaul was a quarterback on Clarkston teams that made consecutive state semifinal appearances in 1999 and 2000.

Linebackers coach Steve Pearson and running backs coach Jeff Long are also Clarkston grads, as is John King (defensive line/special teams), who played for Richardson in 1989 before playing running back at Central Michigan, helping the Chippewas win the MAC championship in 1994. Pearson has been on Richardson’s staff the last 30 years.

And then there’s Luke Denver, the wide receivers coach.

“We tease Luke all the time how he wanted to be a Clarkston kid but had to play at Lake Orion,” joked Richardson, a 1971 grad of Clarkston.

More: Michigan a finalist for Clarkston stars Dellinger and Spindler, but package deal is no guarantee

Richardson has changed with the times, making moves in strategy, depending on the situation.

“Obviously, we tweak things from year-to-year,” Richardson said. “We’re a spread team, but we also have a package that includes the running game like two years ago when it got real bad, we were playing on terrible fields and it saved us. So we have a power package.”

Richardson is now coaching the sons of men who played for him in years past. He said players have changed “a ton.”

“The biggest difference is there’s more of a ‘me’ attitude in kids now than in years past,” he said. “It’s something at all level of athletics and it’s something that we constantly have to talk to them about. You know, ‘The team, the team, the team. It’s not about you as an individual and you have to make sacrifices.’ I think kids feel more entitled and probably more so the parents than the kids, and that wasn’t true at all 10, 15, 20 years ago.”

'They are the standard'

Spindler loves playing for Richardson and is grateful for the opportunity to start as a freshman, the year when Clarkston avenged a 37-16 Week 4 loss to West Bloomfield by earning a 3-2 victory in the rematch in the state title game.

“I love him to death, he’s a great coach, an old-school type of coach,” Spindler said. “A lot of things he taught me – the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat – how to handle both of those things. He’s definitely taught me a lot of life lessons but that one is the one that is definitely going to stick with me the most.

Kurt Richardson enters the 2020 season with 259 wins.

“He’s had a lot of coaches who have actually played under him and a lot of others who coached with him since he started and that’s tremendous to have because they know how to run an offense, how to run the defense and how to win games.

“My freshman year, first day of camp he gave me an opportunity; he threw me in and I took full advantage of it. I believe I’m one of the only true freshmen that ever started both ways (at Clarkston) and until now every single game. If you’re ready, best players play, if you’re a senior or a true freshman.”

West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy says Clarkston is the true measuring stick for teams in Metro Detroit

“You have to be fundamentally sound, you have to be disciplined and most importantly you have to be tough,” said Bellamy of facing Clarkston. “Kurt Richardson has built that Clarkston program and when you think of Clarkston you think that they are the standard, what you envision to be as a football program. And Kurt Richardson you envision of being that type of coach, a stand-up guy who does things the right way.

“As you are building your team, the next team in the offseason, the one thing you try to build your team for is to compete with Clarkston. And as much success that we’ve had at West Bloomfield the last six years ourselves (54-16), you look at Clarkston and it’s not close. They’ve been to Ford Field four times and won three state titles, one against us.

“We’re glad we’ve had one of the best matchups the last five or six years (3-3 record versus Clarkston the last five), so it’s two heavyweights going up against each other and we both have a great deal of respect for each other.”

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Richardson is thrilled he and his staff have built Clarkston’s program with homegrown talent. He said every year they have a summer camp with 130 seventh, eighth and ninth grade players and he is sad that won’t take place this year.

“That’s huge for me,” said Richardson of working with players who have grown up in the community. “The kids come up through our program and it’s the same from the seventh grade up, and some of the guys that I have coaching in the seventh and eighth grade have been there forever. The expectations of the kids, that’s the same, so we have very few problems because it’s weeded out at the younger levels.”

Does Richardson have a goal, say winning 300 games, before retiring?

“I’ve never looked at where I am in terms of wins – have to look it up when someone asks,” Richardson said. “I’m pretty much year-to-year. You get attached to kids and it’s like, ‘I don’t want to walk away now.’ It will be tough to walk away when it happens.”

Michigan’s winningest coaches

1. John Herrington, Farmington Hills Harrison – 443

2. Al Fracassa, Royal Oak Shrine, Birmingham Brother Rice – 430

3. Tom Mach, Detroit Catholic Central – 370

4. * Herb Brogan, Jackson Lumen Christi – 368

5. Mike Boyd, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes – 361

6. Ralph Munger, Frankenmuth, Rockford – 332

7. Ken Hofer, Stephenson, Menominee – 322

8. Bob Lantzy, Utica Eisenhower, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek – 309

9. Leo “Smokey” Boyd, multiple schools – 308

10. Jack Pratt, multiple schools – 304

11. * Jim Ahern, Lansing Catholic Central – 301

12. Walt Braun, Marysville – 300

13. * John Shillito, Zeeland West – 297

14. Jeff Smith, multiple schools – 293

15. John Schwartz, Mendon – 274

16. Bill Maskill, Sheridan, Galesburg-Augusta – 273

17. George Porritt, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s – 271

18. Rick Bye, Sterling Heights Stevenson – 268

T19. Ernie Ayers, Sand Creek – 264

T19. Bud Rowley, Oxford – 264

T21. Denny Dock, multiple schools – 262

T21. Jack Schugars, Muskegon Oakridge – 262

23. * Kurt Richardson, Clarkston – 259

* active

Kurt Richardson through the decades

1980s – 15-12

1990s – 73-25

2000s – 77-32

2010s – 94-26

Career – 259-95