Phil Fortier has seen it all with Shelby, helping Lorenzo Rodriguez lead one of the best program turnarounds in the state by appearing in two straight state semi-finals and winning a share or the outright title of the West Michigan Conference in four straight years from 2010-13. Ever since then, the Tiger football program has been like a snowball down a hill, as they have only won 4 games since 2014.
Fortier has decided to take on the challenge to help rebuild the program for a second time, but now he will be in charge as head coach after Rodriguez stepped down following the conclusion of the 2020 season.
“We’ve got a great bunch of kids right now, winning should be the product of the things that you do right, I’m going to be proud of our players because they give great effort and do the right things, and the winning will take care of itself.”
Numbers in the program have been a big reason for its decline, as they have not had a junior varsity team for several years now and they have had to start a lot of two-way players with a small varsity roster. Fortier says getting numbers back up will be his number one focus.
“Widen the circle, I want rosters to be huge, I want to make sure that we have a lot of kids playing football, that is number one.”
Despite not having the talent of other schools in the West Michigan Conference, Fortier insists that the Tigers must play better.
“We have to play better, I don’t know if we can line up against Oakridge, Ravenna, or Montague physically, but we just have to play better.”
Fortier has prior head coaching experience with Manistee Catholic Central (1992-94) and Big Rapids (2001-06), finishing with a record of 32-54, two playoff appearances, and a state semi-finals appearance in 2003.
“Being an assistant for the last thirteen years has been very good, but especially in the last five years, I felt that itch to be a head coach again.”
Fortier says another main key to a potential turnaround will be to make sure football is fun.
“Football needs to be fun, it has to be attractive, we need to do our best to make sure that we get kids playing football again with the kind of numbers we’d like to see, and we’re willing to do anything it takes to make that happen because we think the game is that important.”
With the West Michigan Conference set to split up in the near future into two smaller tiers, Fortier is looking forward to having more winnable games on Shelby’s schedule.
“It’s a great idea because if you’ve watched scores over the past four years, there’s a definite line that’s drawn in the West Michigan Conference in the programs that are excelling and the ones that are struggling and that gap continues to get wider,” Fortier said. “To be competitive in a league and playing schools your own size with the same skill level is very attractive, hopefully, that can lead to strengthen our program.”
As mentioned earlier, the Tigers have only won four games since 2014. That challenge is one that many would walk away from, but Fortier is embracing it with open arms and is ready to get to work.