Ken Koenig pauses, then leans back in his chair and smiles.
“I think about this question all the time,” said Koenig, who is beginning his third year as varsity head football coach at Dexter High School. Wearing a Dexter Dreadnaughts baseball cap, a Dexter Dreadnaughts pullover jacket and a Dexter Dreadnaughts t-shirt, he literally wears his pride on his sleeve.
“How do I measure success?” he repeats the question.
A quick history lesson before the coach answers.
The Dreads have won two varsity football games in the last three years - Sept. 20, 2013 over Adrian and Oct. 19, 2012 over Jackson Northwest.
But let’s go further back.
The program found some success between 2009 and 2011. Both the 2009 and 2011 teams each won three games. The 2010 team just missed the state playoffs after finishing the season 5-4 with a season-ending win over Pinckney. It was only the program’s second winning season since the Dreads went 7-2 in 1989.
The 2005 team went 5-4 and the 2006 team was 4-5. But Dexter won just three games in 2007 and one game in 2008. There were three wins in 2004, one in 2003, three in 2002 and two in 2001. The decade started with a win-less 2000.
Dexter also hasn’t defeated rival Chelsea since 1995 – a fact the Chelsea fans like to chant about every year.
The bottom line is two winning seasons since 1989. So if wins-losses are the measuring stick for success the stick hasn’t measured up to much for some time for the Dexter football program.
OK, coach, we’re ready now.
“I always look at a couple things,” Koenig said. “The first is, are the kids having fun. And the second is, are they getting better every day.
“Football is a different kind of sport because you have to put yourself through some misery. And whether you enjoy that misery or not you have to enjoy the results. To push yourself to that extreme and put yourself through that you have to love to do it.”
And that comes back to his answer about success.
“We are seeing more of the kids enjoying the game and being involved with the team and being there for each other,” Koenig said. “We are starting to see that team aspect. And they are starting to understand that you just aren’t here for yourself.”
And that’s the type of success that Koenig hopes will lead to other kinds of success – including on the scoreboard.
The Dexter varsity team lost all nine games last season, including a 28-27 season-
opening loss to visiting Fowlerville. That loss was crucial in a lot of ways, most importantly mentally.
“That was a gut-wrenching loss,” Koenig said. “We learned a lot from that game after watching the game film this off-season. There were missed opportunities early and often. We should have never put ourselves into that position where we had to decide to go for two at the end. We should have been way out in front.”
From an emotional standpoint, especially for a program trying to establish a winning atmosphere, that loss was devastating.
“We spent all summer long and all off-season working toward that first game and if we had gotten a win in that first one it could have changed the whole direction of the season,” said Koenig. “I think the attitude and confidence of the kids heading into that second game would have been different and it would have showed the value of the work they put in during the off-season.
“That first one is important.”
Defense was a big part of the problem last season as the Dreadnaughts gave up more than 39 points per game. But some of those points came after turnovers or short fields that the offense or special teams put on the shoulders of the defense.
“Our problems last year were on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” said Koenig.
Indeed. After scoring 27 points in the opener, the Dreads scored just 14 over the next three games.
The Dexter junior varsity team, built with mostly freshmen and sophomores, won three games last season and showed steady improvement on both sides of the ball.
The heart of the matter
Koenig has preached since day one that games are won and lost in the off-season and one of the areas he’s tried to address is finding a larger group of players dedicated to putting in time in the winter, spring and summer that will pay off in the fall.
“My message to the players then and now is that you win games in the off-season,” he said. “We had a good handful of kids who dedicated themselves but not enough of these players who could push us over the edge. We had a small group of kids who were totally committed to the program and what we were trying to do and then a big step-down to the next group of kids who kind of had one toe in the water. There was a big drop in the level of dedication.”
Over the past several years that has been the case for the Dexter football program.
There has been a small group of players fully committed to winning with the key word being “small.”
“I don’t know what that number is to have a solid core of dedicated players but if you can get 20 seniors and 20 juniors on the roster and half of those kids fall into that dedicated category I think you can build something,” Koenig said.
Because the more dedicated kids will influence the rest of the team and get others to buy into it. Having a larger group of “all in” players in the off-season is what Dexter needs to start putting more games into the win column.
And Koenig is starting to see the rise in dedication.
“We have seen our best commitment in the off-season in the weight room since I became coach,” he said. “The kids are really getting after it. We have more kids doing the extra stuff. In fact, we have kids we can’t get out of the weight room.”
As the coach says, you win and lose games in the off-season. Hopefully this increase in dedication results in an increase in wins on the scoreboard.
Down on the farm
Matt Parachek, who will coach the seventh-grade program this season, also is the president of the Dexter Youth Football League. That relationship is another positive step for the program.
“It offers us that connection between the varsity program and what we are trying to do with the youth kids,” Koenig said. “He’s a done a great job of boosting the numbers in the DYFL.”
Dexter has four or five teams at the third-fourth grade level and a minimum of five teams at the fifth-sixth grade level with 15 kids on each team.
“It’s a fun atmosphere and everything stays in town,” Koenig says. “We don’t have to travel.”
There also is a seventh-grade and eighth-grade team at the middle school level.
“We finally have the coaches in place at all levels running the same system we run on the varsity team,” Koenig said. “They learn the basics in the youth program and then we add another layer at the middle school level and keep doing that as they move up. But there is consistency with the terminology and that just hasn’t been here before. There is a connection now between all the levels so we don’t have to reteach, we just have to reload.”
Koenig brings passion, knowledge and understanding of the game, and most importantly stability to the program. While Dexter has had a higher than usual coaching turnover rate especially in the spring, Koenig isn’t going anywhere.
He begins his third season in August as head coach of the Dreadnaughts after taking over the program in 2013.
After a long run with Tom Barbie as head coach – a run that included both highs and lows – Brian Baird was hired to take over the program. After just three games into his second season, Baird resigned because of personal reasons and Ryan Fisher took over and coached the team the rest of the 2012 season.
Fisher did an admirable job running the team, especially considering the circumstances, but he was going back to school for his Masters and stepped down from coaching after the season.
Former Saline coach Mike Glennie was hired but didn’t even make it to kickoff, stepping down before coaching a game. He is now an assistant coach at Concordia College.
Enter Ken Koenig.
Koenig will begin his eighth year as an assistant principal at the high school after teaching social studies for seven years. He was on Barbie’s staff from 2001 to 2009 before taking a year off. He then coached the middle school team.
And Koenig, who has already had one son come through the program and another who will be a junior this season, has no plans of giving up the head set.
“Not unless they shove me out,” he said with a laugh.
His most impressive traits and are hard work and attitude. He’s always trying to make his players better football players and better people – on and off the field. And his positive approach is infectious.
A look ahead
The Dreadnaughts did not have a freshman football team last year but will have one for the 2015 season. Instead, they will not field a JV team as the numbers just aren’t there to support three teams.
There was a group of about 10 freshman who played JV last year and Koenig said about 25 to 27 freshman will be coming out for the team next month. Most of last year’s freshman will join the varsity team this season and then next year the Dreads will field a JV team.
The varsity roster will be around 40 players, which is close to the number they had last season.
“We have a pretty good solid core of freshman and a great core of seniors and juniors for this season,” Koenig said.
Stability in the program goes beyond the head coach. Koenig’s staff up and down the sideline will have plenty of familiar faces in 2015.
Brett Parachek will be the offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach. Charlie Moeller and Adam Brown return to coach the offensive and defensive lines. Brian Freedman and David Teddy will coach the receivers and defensive backs.
Ryan Fisher returns to the sidelines and will coach the freshman team. Mike Verbal and JP Birmingham will be his assistants. James Gentile is new to the staff and will help coach the freshman team.
Matt Parachek, who coached the receivers on varsity last year, will lead the seventh-
“It’s a really good staff,” Koenig said. “Most of us have coached together before and we know what to expect to expect from each other. It’s a really good mix.”
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Dexter opens practice on Aug. 10. Their first game is Aug. 28 at Fowlerville. They open their home schedule Thursday, Sept. 3 against Ortonville Brandon.