by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The new head coach of the Durand High School varsity football team has been announced, following an intensive interview process that included multiple background checks and reference interviews. Michigan native Rick Winbigler (you read that right) was hired in early January after spending the past 13 years coaching high school football in Michigan, Ohio and, most recently, Oklahoma.
Winbigler, who grew up in Clarkston and graduated from Central Michigan University, calls Durand the “perfect spot” for him. After spending the last six years coaching in Oklahoma, being close to his family and friends was one of the deciding factors in Winbigler applying for the Durand job.
“I really value the relationships I developed in Oklahoma, and I am proud of everything we accomplished, but it was time to come home,” shared Winbigler. “I’ve cooked breakfast for my dad more times in the past three weeks than I did over the previous six years, and three of my best friends live within 45 minutes of Durand.
“I’ve always looked forward to, later in my career or after I retire, walking into the town café or coffee shop every morning and talking with the other locals. I want people to be able look back one day and fondly remember ‘Coach Win’s’ teams. I want to build something, and I think Durand is the perfect place to do that. I really appreciate the opportunity Superintendent (Craig) McCrumb and Athletic Director (Rich) Balcom have given me. They, along with the rest of the administrative staff, have been very supportive.”
Winbigler was hired to replace Jason Gray, who resigned for medical reasons during Week 9 of the 2017 football season. Gray coached the Railroaders for nearly two seasons after taking over for Jeremy Furman, who replaced Mark Worsham after the 2014 season. Being Durand’s fourth coach in five years, “Coach Win” knows he must earn his players’ trust with his actions.
“I want to bring stability; the players deserve that,” Winbigler explains. “I know every coach promises they won’t leave, so these players have heard that before. I’m just going to work my hardest every day to give these players the high school football experience they deserve.”
Though he has been on the job for less than a month, Winbigler has not wasted time getting acclimated. He attends as many Durand athletic events as possible, even riding the freshman basketball team bus to an away game in Mt. Morris recently. He has also been getting to know his players and coaches during off-season weightlifting sessions. Coaches Rob Milton, Lance Powell and Scott Winslow have expressed their interest in remaining on the staff, though Durand Athletic Director Rich Balcom expects the team to bring in a new defensive coordinator.
Unlike many coaches, Winbigler is not married to any one system, instead preferring to develop his team’s schemes based on the skills of the players. “I’ve run the spread, double tight, Wing T, option, and all kinds of defenses. Every team is different from year to year. You have to run what works best for the players. It’s about putting the players in the best position to be successful in the short term and, more importantly, the long term.”
The varsity team is coming off an 0-9 season, which followed a 5-4 season in Jason Gray’s first year as coach in 2016. Winbigler notes that the size and fitness of the Durand players is not indicative of a football team coming off a winless season, and he has been impressed with the participation numbers. As far as he is concerned, nothing stands in the way of Durand becoming a consistent, winning football team. With a little stability at the coaching level, he is confident that the Durand community will once again be proud of its Railroaders football team.