WSU's Winters Selected as One of Detroit News Michiganians of the Year

WSU's Winters Selected as One of Detroit News Michiganians of the Year

Story courtesy of Terry Foster, Detroit News

Since 1978, The Detroit News has paid homage to individuals who exemplify excellence, courage, philanthropy and simple acts of kindness that uplift not only the metro area, but the entire state of Michigan.

From titans in the boardroom, entertainers and most-valuable athletes to community activists and unsung heroes, the recipients of this prestigious honor have worked unselfishly to help others, oftentimes without seeking recognition for themselves.

This year - our 34th anniversary - we present 11 citizens who shined in 2012.

Paul Winters: Leader revamps Warriors program

Link to Detroit News article on Michiganians of the Year

Link to Detroit News article on Paul Winters

Michiganian of the Year: Paul Winters: For guiding Wayne State football to its winningest season in school history.

Wayne State University football coach Paul Winters gathered his team together for one final huddle. They stood in the middle of Braly Stadium on the campus of North Alabama University the day before playing Pittsburg State in the Division II national championship game. He wanted them to look at the NCAA championship logos, examine the field and finally walk up into the stands for a team photo.

He wanted the seniors to savor the moment and for underclassmen to dream of returning again.

Winters was named the American Football Coaches National D-II Coach of the Year for guiding one of the worst and most forgotten about programs to one of national promise. The Warriors lost the following day, but the football team changed the culture around the campus and Metro Detroit.

For four magical weeks the "Road Warriors" won four playoff games away from Adams Field in downtown Detroit before advancing to the title game. And when the run ended, Winters did something more stunning. He said yes to Wayne State and yes to Detroit by turning down the head coaching job at his alma mater, University of Akron, where he played and coached.

"It just didn't feel right," he shrugged.

This isn't Michigan or Michigan State; Wayne State football is on the map. Before Winters arrived, Wayne's last winning season was in 1993. They were 24-78 the next 10 seasons, including a 1-9 year his first season.

"They were saying, 'You guys aren't any good. What have you done?'" Winters said. "It was almost like they were challenging us to do something." Winters stuck to his principles of playing conservative, hard-nosed football where WSU won and lost on the running game and defense. He cleaned house of players who did not want to be there. He also told people who had negative perceptions of the program to go away.

"Wayne State was bad in football and the perception was it was going to remain that way," Winters said. "We could not think that way; we can't talk that way we can't act that way. We tried to make everybody who dealt with us expect more and demand more."

Winters made the demands but thought he'd failed. A 43-42 overtime loss by the University of Findlay gave Hillsdale the conference championship, and Winters thought his playoff hopes were dashed. However, a text message came from Athletic Director Rob Fournier: Wayne was in the playoffs.

In the span of a month, the Road Warriors logged 4,558 miles and knocked off defending champion Minnesota-Duluth, unbeaten Winston Salem (N.C.), Nebraska at Kearney and St. Cloud State.

"He changed the approach. He changed the culture around here," Fournier said. "And I think that has trickled to the other coaches. Because of his personality, I think he relates to people and not just recruits. He brought back a winning attitude for all our departments. You can have other good programs but if football and basketball don't win, nobody pays attention to the others."

Paul Winters

Age: 54

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees, University of Akron

Why honored: For leading Wayne State's football team to the Division II national championship game

Football Academic Teams
November 17, 2011 Football Academic Teams