Dan Fife had to fight back tears on Tuesday morning when he met with his Clarkston basketball players. He was fighting water in his eyes because it was the final time he would address the players as the program’s head coach.
After 36 season of success as the head coach of the Clarkston basketball program, Fife announced his retirement in a team meeting.
“I fought it off pretty good,” Fife said.
Fife said that the decision had been one he had been wrestling with “for a long time” but finally made the decision to retire. Having led the Clarkston basketball program to its first two Class A state championships in the previous two seasons, the 69-year-old grandfather is now going to find the time for his family.
“My two oldest grandsons are playing football for the first time down in Texas,” Fife said. “Then, I’ve got my granddaughters playing soccer every which way. I’m unable to see them and just I want to make sure I’m still a part of their lives. That’s my one family. My team has always been my second family.
“I just don’t want to miss out on what I feel need to do for my family and with my family.”
Fife is glad to also have the opportunity to spend time with and care for both his sister and mother in law, both of which have had recent health concerns.
Finishing his high school coaching career with 703 wins — all of which happened at Clarkston — Fife has been a part of the Clarkston community ever since his family moved to the village in 1957 when he was seven years old. Having graduated as a decorated basketball and baseball player from Clarkston High School, he was eventually selected in both the NBA and MLB drafts in 1971. Electing to pursue baseball, he was able to enjoy a brief stint in the MLB with the Minnesota Twins in 1973 before his career ended because of a shoulder injury.
Fife then turned to coaching, earning assistant job at Michigan where he helped coach the Wolverines to a Final Four appearance in 1976.
Finally, in 1983, Fife returned to Clarkston for good when he was hired as the head varsity basketball coach. He also took on the role of the school’s athletic director in the mid-90s before retiring from that in 2016.
All three of Dan’s sons — Dugan, Jeremy and Dane — played for Clarkston under their father’s guidance over the years.
Along the way, Fife won 29 league championships, 30 district championships, 13 regional championships, four state semifinal appearances and two state championships.
Those two state championships might mean more to Fife than anyone else in the Clarkston community.
“It used to be a dream in Clarkston that you could win a state championship,” Fife said. “It was always my dream. I went to (watch) all four state championships when I was in high school. I went every year just to watch it and dreamed of that someday. Now, our kids that have been growing up in Clarkston realize that it can happen in Clarkston. It can happen if you do it. If you work, you’ve got a chance.”
Still, as meaningful as it has been for Fife to finally win his state championships at the end of his career, the state trophies pale in comparison to the relationships he has built with his athletes.
“I realize these guys are my trophies,” Fife said of his players. “Those trophy cases are full with stuff but, to see the players, that’s a walking trophy for all of us.”