Long-time Forest Park football coach Bill Santilli talks with several players during a time-out in a playoff game last November. Santilli has announced that he is stepping down from the job this fall.
CRYSTAL FALLS—“I have been blessed in so many ways with intangibles that money can’t buy and I can’t sell. It has been a pleasure to play and coach football at Forest Park High School.
“I will always remain a Forest Park Trojan.”
That may be, but Bill Santilli’s highly successful 18-year tenure as Forest Park varsity football coach has come to an end.
“Coach Sount” recently met with Forest Park school officials to tell them of his decision to step down as coach. The school board was expected to accept his resignation at its Feb. 24 regular meeting.
“I think it’s time for me to take a step back and do some other things,” he said.
Superintendent Becky Waters announced that the process of hiring a new head coach will begin immediately.
“Bill Santilli was called to work with children,” she said. “Coach Santilli is not only a football coach, he is a character coach. He truly believes in the development of the whole child and has made a difference in the lives of so many young adults.
“Coach Santilli’s leadership and dedication to the game is rare.”
Santilli, who turned 56 during last fall’s playoffs, leaves big shoes to fill. During his time as coach, the Trojans have won 13 conference titles, 10 district championships, eight regional titles and played in seven state championship games.
In 2007, the Trojans won the state Division 8 championship at Ford Field in Detroit, defeating Fulton-Middleton 22-14. It was part of a string of six consecutive (2004 to 2009) state championship games for Forest Park. The Trojans also played for the state title in 2000.
The 2007 state title was the Trojans’ third. Their first came in the inaugural state tournament in 1975, when Santilli was the halfback for another legendary Forest Park coach, Dick Mettlach, and led the Trojans to a 50-0 win over Flint Holy Rosary.
That was Santilli’s senior year at Forest Park. While playing for the Trojans, he was voted to the all-U.P. team three times and was Class D back of the year in 1975.
As varsity coach, he compiled a 171-46 won-lost record.
“He has not only created a winning tradition,” said Waters’ statement. “He has fostered a winning attitude. Coach Santilli also brings home a strong work ethic, the meaning of unselfish play, teamwork, the benefits of hard work and goal-setting.
“Over the years, his players have excelled not only on the field but in the classrooms. The Forest Park school district is very thankful and appreciative to have had such a posi- influence on our students.”
Santilli thanked Forest Park for the chance to coach football and said he “will forever cherish the memories that have been created.” He said he enjoyed the relationship he had with other coaches, officials, school administrators, reporters, fans “and most of all, the players.”
Why step down from a job he clearly loves? Santilli spoke with the Reporter about his reasons last November, the day after the Trojans were defeated by Beal City in the state Division 8 semifinals.
He explained that he works as a permit agent at the Crystal Falls Transportation Service Center of the Michigan Department of Transportation.
In recent years, his workload increased significantly when Delta and Menominee counties were added to his territory. The permit work has to be done on-site, which means a sharply increased workload and much more driving.
The added workload increased problems Santilli already had with atrial fibrillation. In April 2013, he had a heart ablation operation to deal with the problem.
Since the operation, Santilli said, he has been checking his blood pressure at home daily.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “But then, during playoff season, it started elevating a little bit. Thursday, it was high. Friday, it was real high.
“Yesterday [the day of the Beal City game], I didn’t even bother to check!”
The busiest months for MDOT permit agents, he noted, are in fall, as agencies planning road projects for next year try to get permit work out of the way before the start of deer season.
“My job isn’t going to change,” Santilli said. “I’m covering those five counties, and I just feel like in the mornings when I get up during the season, that I can’t get everything done during the day,” both at his job and as coach—things like scouting opponents and getting his team ready for the next game.
“I’m always under the gun, and I just need to get away from that for a while.”
By dropping his coaching duties, Santilli said, he will be free to work a little later at the office to finish up job-related tasks. “I don’t have to run over to open up the weight room, and I don’t have to watch film all week and then go in to work on Saturday and Sunday—unless I want to.
“That’s the driving factor behind this.
“I’ve really kicked this around a lot. I just feel at the age I’m at, that it’s time to hand the baton off to somebody and put the program in good hands.”
While it might be the right thing to do, that isn’t going to make the decision any easier.
“It’s been very emotional down the stretch,” he said. “I’ve tried to bite my lip and just suck it up, because it’s going to be a deep loss.”
Santilli said he hopes to continue as boys junior high basketball coach. (“If I do this season and next, I’ll have 25 years in coaching. “) He didn’t rule out a return to coaching football sometime in the future. “But it’s the other things I want to pursue in my life. We have a grandchild in Rhinelander.”
Sadness was in his voice this November morning as he spoke about how he will miss coaching football. But he perked right back up a minute later.
“Troy Margoni asked me to help him on the radio with WIKB,” he said. “And I think it would be a great fit. I’ll still have contact with the kids.”
It has worked out well. Margoni does the play-by-play, while Santilli keeps track of the stats, offers his insights during the game and conducts many of the post-game interviews. At times, Santilli calls the action
“That has been a lot of fun for me,” he said recently. “It’s a beautiful thing: no preparation, no films, no scouting. And I’m still mixing with the athletes and the fans. I really love that.”