Corona enters MHSFCA Hall of Fame

LANSING, Mich. — Any great head coach will be the first to tell you he's nothing without great assistants.

All too often the names we recognize, the names we remember, belong to the men and women at the top. But every so often those behind the scenes are recognized for their hard work and dedication. 

On Saturday night, Rick Corona was recognized for his excellence on the sidelines and beyond, as he was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches' Association Hall of Fame. The former De La Salle assistant coach was one of 14 coaches honored by their peers at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lansing.

"Being recognized by one's peers is truly a very special honor," said Corona, who spent 31 seasons over a span of 50-plus years coaching the game of football. "As an assistant coach, it is truly a privilege to be part of an esteemed group of men — who attained great success and outstanding achievement. It's as if I've been flying on a jet plane, but now I'm in a first-class seat."

Joining Corona in the Class of 2020 were Daniel Boggan (Lansing Sexton), Mike Carr (Chippewa Valley), Greg Carter (St. Martin DePorres), Terry Copacia (Utica Eisenhower), Tom Doane (Brighton), Brett Foerster (Portage Central), Steve Himburg (Clarkston Jr. High), Brandon Oliver (Cranbrook), Ed Radske (Marysville), Dennis Reinhart (Montrose), Eric Smith (Detroit Central), Peter Stuursma (East Grand Rapids) and Jerry VanHavel (Mason). 

Corona, who began his coaching career as a varsity assistant at Bishop Gallagher back in 1965, had had 11 stops at 10 different schools over a span of 53 years. He spent time at Bishop Gallagher, Austin Catholic Prep, Grosse Pointe South, Chippewa Valley, Sterling Heights Stevenson, Brother Rice, and De La Salle Collegiate (twice). He also made college stops at Wayne State, Northwood, and Western Michigan University.

The teams he had coached over 31 seasons were a combined 191-133-2. He was an assistant at De La Salle under head coaches Ross MacDonald and Tim Brandon from 1999-2001. He would then spend a season at Brother Rice before taking a handful of years off before being coaxed back to De La Salle in 2008, where he would then spend the next 11 years.

In his coaching career, which spanned six decades, Corona coached three high school all-Americans, five college all-Americans, and three future NFL players. He's also coached alongside 20 others who are in the hall of fame, nine of which spent time at De La Salle — along with himself. Former De La Salle coach Paul Verksa's 2014 staff alone included seven hall-of-fame members.

"It's just amazing. That never hit me until I started looking at the details," Corona said. "That staff that Paul had, when we finally won the final (in 2014), I think that was one of the finest high school staffs ever put together."

Being a part of that 2014 Pilots state championship team was one of the highlights of his career. 

"You pinch yourself because you say, 'It happened.' " he said, noting he had been a part of previous teams that lost in the state championship game. "Prior (to winning that title), I was a part of a Brother Rice team (in 2002) that lost to Lowell. And though I wasn't a part of the 2006 (De La Salle) team, I was a part of the 2008 team that lost to Muskegon. That was tough to accept because to have a 13-0 season and suddenly you get your butt kicked, it's tough."

Corona was part of all three of the Pilots state championship teams in 2014, 2017, and 2018. He worked primarily with the special-teams units.

"I'm so grateful to both men for giving me an opportunity to be a part of this program 'Turnaround,' " Corona said. "Both were remarkably flexible as I blended football and challenging family obligations."

Verska said Corona was a great tactician in special teams and knew what it took to be great in that phase of the game.

"Rick was a committed coach," Verska said. "He came out to the summer 7-on-7s, he was in the weight room, he did all the little things that assistant coaches do to help the head coach become better, to help the kids become better. He's a detail-oriented guy. He would chart every kick, how far they went, how long it took for them to kick it, which direction it went, did (the kicker) step straight ahead, step to the left, step to the right? Eighty-five percent of the kicks went to the right, to the right hash. So we would set up our plays that way.

"He is smart as hell. He would talk in terms that the kids would look at me and say, 'What did he say?' And I'd break it down and tell them, 'He said to step to the left.' And they would then say, 'Oh, OK, I got it, coach.' "

When Verska talked him into returning to the school in 2008, he knew exactly what they were getting. 

"He had been dedicated, loyal to whoever he had worked with," said Verska, who himself was inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 2001. "(At De La Salle), it started with him coming out a couple of times a week, helping out with special teams and it branched out to where he was there full time — and he never left. I learned a long time ago that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but if you surround yourself with great people you will see everyone else blossom."

One of the things Corona is most proud of over the course of his decades-long career is having the opportunity to help kids achieve their goals of playing at the next level.

"Besides the success of winning three titles and coaching all of the kids with respect to their abilities, I really became involved when a kid wanted to get a college career started," he said. "Because I had these experiences on a college level, I could pick up the phone on a selected basis and try to support a kid. Making a difference is exactly what gave me the biggest reward in my final years at De La Salle."

Making Saturday's induction event even more special was that Corona was able to share the moment with many of his closest friends and his family, including his wife (Betsy) and his three sons, Brian, Matthew and Jamie. Brian (Class of '88) captained the De La Salle football team and went on to play at Miami University. Jamie also attended De La Salle from 1994-96 and served time as an assistant junior varsity coach for the Pilots in 2000-01.

Corona, a 1960 graduate of Austin Catholic, went on to play college football at Villanova. That first year coaching job at Bishop Gallagher ended with an 0-7 season. Some 53 years later he capped off his career as part of De La Salle's 2018 state championship-winning squad.
 

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