Gielczyk: Bigby Set for 1st Season at Kalkaska

The dream has come true for Josh Bigby.

After three years at Class 6-A Bartelsville, Oklahoma – the 17th largest high school in the state – as an assistant football coach, the first season in charge of the defensive backs and the last two coaching the offensive line, Bigby is finally getting the opportunity he has always wanted to coach in Michigan.

Bigby was hired to replace Jeremy Wilkinson as head varsity football coach at Kalkaska. Wilkinson compiled a 40-44 record in nine years at Kalkaska, including a run to the MHSAA state playoffs two years ago before stepping down last November to spend more time with his family.

Kalkaska went 4-5 last year. The Blazers made the playoffs three times during Wilkinson’s tenure, but failed to win a game in the post-season and Wilkinson said that was his only regret from his time at Kalkaska.

Despite spending a great many years in Oklahoma, including previous stints as an offensive and defensive line coach as well as a special teams coordinator at smaller schools around the state before landing at Bartelsville, the 35-year old Bigby did get a taste of coaching in Michigan.

His previous stops in the state included a year as an assistant at Mount Pleasant, and two more at Clare High School.

Those experiences left him with a lasting impression, and the desire to eventually get a head coaching job in Michigan.

Bigby attended Pittsburgh State in Kansas, following two years playing football at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College.

Although this is his first head football coaching gig, Bigby did run a varsity baseball program before and is familiar with the added responsibilities he’ll be taking on at Kalkaska.

“Since I attended college, I’ve always wanted to be a head football coach in Michigan,” said Bigby. “I’ve always wanted to teach and coach in Michigan. That’s been my dream. I love Michigan high school football.

“I have a friend who just accepted a head football coaching job in Durand, and he had called and told me that Kalkaska was open. We both actually applied for it. To tell you the truth, I had never been through Kalkaska before.

“But, I learned that it was open, and I love northern Michigan so I had to at least apply for it. So, I had to at least apply for it. I basically said any school north of Mt. Pleasant, I’m going to apply for because I want to go back to Michigan.”

While saying that he felt Wilkinson did a solid job of changing the culture at Kalkaska, he added that he would be putting his own touches, an Oklahoma flair, on a program that has all ready been moving in the right direction.

He discussed that, as well as how it is going to be coached, in his conversations with Kalkaska athletic director Justin Thorington.

Bigby assured Thorington that he understands that the players of today don’t respond well to the “old school” style that he knew in his day, when coaches frequently screamed at their charges as a way of motivation.

Times have changed, and he recognizes that.

“Kids need to be coached in a different way than when I was in school,” Bigby added. “Criticized softly, and praised loudly. We discussed that.”

Kalkaska has participated in two 7-on-7 scrimmages under Bigby, who was still in the process of finding a place to live, which gave him the opportunity to work with some of his players.

Plus, some have attended weight lifting sessions the last three weeks.

“Honestly, I like the fire. It’s been amazing, the process we’ve been going through,” Bigby said. “The kids are trying to learn a new system, and a new coach. It’s been really fun to see what we do.

“It’s early, no doubt, but the kids have 100 percent bounght into it, and they like what we’re doing. We’re doing some different things, a little different than what’s been done in the past. We’re seeing kids who haven’t been out in a few years come back. Some that were a little hesitant to come out, now they’re plugged in.”

Bigby says he has never been a run first type of coach. He prefers a balanced offense that can run and pass.

He adds that he likes to run multiple formations.

“I’m taking pieces from every coach that I liked, and melding them together,” Bigby said. “I am basically making it the system that works best for me. We’ll throw the football for sure. We have a quarterback that can throw the football very well.

“We’ll have a fairly large offensive line. We’ll have four or five that are going to be our strongest (linemen). So, it’s a pretty balanced attack. I’ll decide week in and week out what we see, and how we see it.”

Defensively, the Blazers will bring a four-man front. But, whether it’s a 4-3 or some other formation, Bigby will decided on a weekly basis depending on what kind of offense the opponent runs.

“We’re going to play around a lot in the backfield, so we’re not a set defense,” Bigby added. “It’s not like we’re going to stick to one thing. It will fluctuate every formation, every call we make we’re always trying to get people in different fronts.

“My basic philosophy is that we’re going to be high velocity, high energy and rally to tackle.”

Bigby did his research before accepting the job, and knows a lot about the Lake Michigan Conference. He sees Boyne City and Traverse City St. Francis are the two top teams going into the season, but several others could figure into the mix … including Kinsley, which also has a new coach in Tim Wooer, who coached Traverse City West.

A new excitement about the Blazers football team is beginning to fill the air.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

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