Note: The article below on new Ferris State head football coach Tony Annese was featured Saturday (Dec. 31) in the weekly "Moyes' Memories" column by Jim Moyes, a longtime announcer in the Muskegon area who now authors the weekly column for the Muskegon Chronice. The story can also be found at this link below:
By Jim Moyes
How delighted I was, although not the least bit surprised, that Ferris State University recently appointed former Muskegon coach Tony Annese as their head football coach.
Annese has been a big winner at all his stops on his journey to Big Rapids, but his decade spent here in Muskegon was off the charts.
I must confess, however, that when Annese was first announced by Muskegon as the head coach, I was a little apprehensive.
I was concerned as to how often he had changed coaching jobs, moving from Montrose to Ann Arbor Pioneer and then to Jenison before eventually landing here in Muskegon for the start of the 2000 football season.
Would his veer offense work in Muskegon?
A rough start
The night Muskegon High honored Annese's predecessor, Dave Taylor, the Big Reds fumbled about a dozen times in an unexpected loss to visiting Midland.
Annese had no difficulty at all recalling that debacle.
"My wife was in the stands and the moment that I got home, and I can remember this like it was yesterday, she said: 'Boy were the fans all over you,'" Annese recalled his wife, Christine, telling him.
"I said to Chrissie: 'You know what, if I was sitting in the stands I would have been screaming as well.' We fumbled I believe 11 times and turned it over about seven."
It certainly didn't take long for Annese to win over all of those Big Red skeptics.
Immediately after the 'fumble-itis' game with Midland, the Big Reds quickly picked up Annese's complex veer offense and rattled off six wins in a row before losing a tough 14-7 playoff game at Grandville.
"We had a lot of talent in that season but we had to go through some growing pains to get better," Annese said.
I remember writing Annese a letter at the end of his initial season here, first thanking him for all the cooperation he gave me in making my broadcast preparation so much easier, but most of all to confess how wrong I was about my first impression.
It took but a few brief meetings in his modest office at the Redmond Potter gymnasium before I quickly recognized that the Muskegon administration had found the perfect replacement for Taylor.
This past season was just another ho-hum undefeated season for the wily Annese as he posted a perfect 11-0 mark at Grand Rapids Community College, while burning up a lot of lights on the scoreboard at their home turf at Houseman Field.
Undefeated seasons went hand in hand with Tony's football resume, as his Montrose Rams teams ran the table an implausible six straight times in the regular season during his time there.
After taking Ann Arbor Pioneer to the playoffs two straight years, Annese moved back to football-friendly West Michigan as the head football coach at Jenison.
Not exactly known as a football powerhouse, Tony would win a conference championship in the powerful OK Red, as well as guiding the Wildcats into the playoffs in each of his three years there.
Zack takes notice
It was during his tenure at Jenison that Annese caught the eye of Muskegon High School Principal and football fanatic Arlyn Zack, a former quarterback some 50 years ago at Ravenna.
For about three years, Taylor had informed Zack that he wanted to retire from his coaching duties after a Hall of Fame career.
Every year Zack pleaded with Taylor, ironically, a former two-time captain at Ferris State, to hang around for "just one more year" until they found a capable replacement.
After watching Jenison's offensive juggernaut score 39 points on a vaunted Muskegon defense, Zack knew who he wanted for the job, and after much cajoling and boasting about Muskegon's football tradition, the persistent Zack finally had his man.
"I approached Tony after the last game that we played Jenison in 2009 and I upset a whole bunch of our group that traveled to many of the away games in a motor home," Zack recalled. "I met Tony when he came off the field and I told him I wanted to talk to him after the playoffs."
Following this rather lengthy meeting with Annese, by the time Zack finally returned to the motor home he found a busload of disgruntled and extremely thirsty cohorts anxious to leave Jenison.
The group quickly quizzed Zack as to his delay in returning to the motor home.
"Well, I'll tell you what I was doing, I was making my first legal approach to the guy I wanted to hire as our next football coach," Zack said.
In a recent conversation with Zack, the now retired principal was ebullient in his praise of his prized coach.
"Everybody knows that the man is good, but until you actually work with the man on an everyday basis can you understand how good," Zack said. "The man has one of the most magnetic personalities around, some would call that charismatic, I call it magnetic."
Working his magic
Overall, Annese has won 83 percent of his games as a head coach.
Playing against the stiffest of competition, Annese's Big Reds were 92-15. He went a perfect 14-0 three times over that span, producing three state titles.
Granted, Annese was blessed with some outstanding talent, but I don't see a whole flock of former Big Reds playing on Sundays. His strength was turning good talent into a great team.
To me, Annese was much more than a football coach. He was a father figure, a big brother, a diligent teacher, a master psychologist and, when necessary, a stern disciplinarian.
He knew when an overconfident or lackadaisical player had to be brought down or when a player needed to be coddled to build his confidence.
But perhaps most important, Annese earned the respect of all of his players.
Behind the scenes
Annese never forgot the proud Muskegon High tradition, and even embellished it.
Unknown to all but a few, Annese's Big Reds were frequent visitors to the late Ed Wittkopp, a former Muskegon player left paralyzed following a football injury incurred some 50 years ago at Hackley Stadium.
I recall calling Annese a few years back informing him that there was an impromptu 80th birthday get-together for Roger Chiaverini at a local restaurant, and inquired if he could get away from his busy duties to say hello.
In just a matter of a few minutes, there was Tony Annese walking into the restaurant to congratulate and thank Chev on his birthday.
The scene was far different than the first meeting between the two coaching legends.
Annese spent the first year of his coaching career as an assistant football and basketball coach at Muskegon Catholic. At that time, Chiaverini was the head football coach at Holland West Ottawa, and was less than enamored the following year when West Ottawa hired Annese to be a part of his football program.
Never one to mince words, Chev's first words directed at Annese were very much to the point: "I just want you to know that I did not want you."
Chev sure had a nose for talent as his first choice was current Muskegon Catholic coach Mike Holmes, who worked in the classroom right next to Annese at MCC.
Much to everybody's satisfaction, both Holmes and Annese have had brilliant coaching careers.
It was Annese's idea to honor Chiaverini and Taylor prior to a Big Red home football game shortly before Chev passed away.
I spent many hours with Annese in his Redmond-Potter office over the course of his nine years at Muskegon, when a frequent visitor was Hall of Fame coach Jack Schugars.
You couldn't find two guys who are more polar opposites than Schugars and Annese, but my how they had respect for each other as coaches and they became the best of friends.
Always looking to take advantage of any edge he could obtain, Annese coaxed his coaching colleague Schugars to assist him at GRCC as the team chaplain.
When asked if he will invite Schugars to join him at Ferris Annese quickly said: "Absolutely."
Another turnaround job
Annese has been a proven winner at all his steps up the ladder.
Grand Rapids Community College was a woeful 7-11 before Tony's arrival in the Raiders' camp.
To go from 7-11 to 30-4 is ridiculously good. His ability to put points on the board is incredible as his Raiders' teams led the JUCO ranks in scoring all three years.
I asked Annese what he gained most during his three years coaching at the junior college level.
"It was in recruiting and developing a relationship with the coaches here in the state of Michigan," Annese said. "We wanted the high school coaches to know we are going to take care of their kids, try to make them become successful, bring them into a great city and develop a system to suit our personnel."
Annese currently is on a hectic pace against the clock.
"I haven't even had the time yet to figure out just how many scholarships I have for this year's recruiting class," Annese said. "We need to put Ferris on the map as recruits are the lifeblood to success. I can't imagine that local talents like Toney Davis, Dominique Maybanks and Will Gardner would rather go to Wayne State instead of Ferris State."
With that statement, you know that Annese will make recruiting in this fertile football area a high priority and will use his connections with high school coaches from Sault Ste. Marie to Key West.
"The most welcome change I will have at Ferris is not having a revolving door of players," said Annese, comparing the jobs at GRCC and Ferris. "Instead of having a player for one or two years, I will be able to work with kids four and possibly five years."
When asked if he would take flight from his Grand Rapids-area home and move to Big Rapids, Annese informed me that his wife and youngest son will remain in the Grand Rapids area while the other three Annese children remain in college.
He has already found himself a roommate in Big Rapids when school opens next fall, his daughter Allie, who will be a junior next year at Ferris.
"She probably doesn't want her dad with her during her school years, but I will probably just crash with Allie in an apartment," Annese joked.
The old cliché is defense wins championships, but offense sells tickets. Annese's teams have done both, so ticket sales, as well as wins, are sure to skyrocket in Bulldog country.
It didn't take this old announcer long to jump on the Tony Annese bandwagon. And it won't take long for Ferris State backers and alumni to do the same.
Where do I buy a season ticket?