Former Elgin, Bartlett football coach Stephens remembered for love of football, his players

  • Former Elgin and Bartlett High School football coach Dick Stephens passed away on Thursday.

    Former Elgin and Bartlett High School football coach Dick Stephens passed away on Thursday. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

Updated 10/17/2019 7:16 PM

High school football has lost one of its most passionate coaches.

Former Elgin and Bartlett coach Dick Stephens passed away at his Jackson, Mich. home early Thursday morning. He was 84.


A 1987 inductee to the Michigan Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and a 2009 inductee to the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame, Stephens coached Elgin to a 90-80-2 record, three Upstate Eight Conference titles and five playoff appearances in two stints over 18 years: 1969-1977 and 1987-1995.

In 1997 he became the first head coach at Bartlett, where his teams went 27-22 in five seasons.

After he established the program from scratch along with assistants Tom Meaney, Mark Williams and Rod Bixby, Stephens' Hawks went 20-11 in his final three seasons and made three straight playoff appearances.

Dan Kallenbach, Bartlett's first athletic director, said Stephens' presence steadied the fledgling program from the start.

"Once he came in football was a done deal and that's one of your highest priority programs," Kallenbach said. "We could turn the program over to him and we didn't have to worry anymore."

Stephens stepped down as Bartlett coach in 2001 after he suffered a heart attack but his love of the game continued unabated. Following a year off the veteran coach returned to the sideline at Western High School in Jackson, Mich. and coached four more seasons.

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He then came back to Bartlett and spent six more years as an assistant coach on Meaney's staff until he was 80. He would leave Michigan each summer and spend the football season as a guest in the basement apartment of Meaney's South Elgin home.

"He was addicted to football and he never experienced burnout," said Meaney, who began his coaching career as an assistant under Stephens at Elgin. "He loved being with the guys, especially the offensive and defensive lines. "He loved everything about coaching. He loved the weight lifting, practices, passing leagues, conditioning. He loved the smell of the grass. He even loved the smell of the sweaty locker room. He had that passion and he instilled it in his players. They saw how passionate he was about the game and they followed suit. That's why they played so hard for coach."

Stephens' overall record between Athens (Mich.), Battle Creek Springfield (Mich.), Elgin, Bartlett and Western was 211-203-2.

His 90 wins at Elgin remain the school record. His 1977 team finished 10-1 and set a school record for wins that still stands. That team reached a state quarterfinal, the deepest playoff run in program history.

Elgin athletic director Paul Pennington played three varsity seasons for Stephens at Elgin and later served as a coach on his Bartlett staff.

"He was just an inspiration to play for and work under," said Pennington, a 1991 Elgin graduate. "He required a lot. He was hard nosed. I think I gravitated toward that as did pretty much anybody who played football for him."


Stephens' teams were known for running the trap.

"Every third or fourth play had to be some kind of trap, whether it was a quick trap, slant trap, toss trap or crossbuck trap," Meaney said.

Elgin used variations of the trap almost exclusively to upset highly ranked Schaumburg 10-6 in the 1989 season opener.

"The first question Dick would ask every Sunday morning? How do we trap this?" said former Larkin and Elgin head coach Dave Bierman, who spent five seasons on Stephens' Elgin staff. "But what amazed me about him most was that he was able to adjust as a coach throughout his career. He could still relate to kids even though he was old enough to be their grandfather. And that's hard. He was able to motivate kids because he cared about them and they knew that."

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