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In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Steve Junga talked with Marco Cisco, who is in his 43rd season as head coach for the Monroe Jefferson football team.
When he arrived as a teacher and assistant coach at a brand-new Monroe Jefferson High School in the fall of 1961, Marco Cisco was more certain about when he would leave than he is now almost a half century later.
Cisco, 72, is in his 43rd season as head football coach for the Bears. When he guided them to a 4-3 overall record in his first year as head coach in 1963, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States.
Seven presidents later, Cisco still stalks the sidelines on Friday nights.
His original plan was a two-year stay at Jefferson. But, except for a three-year hiatus as head coach (1970-72), Cisco has never left.
His teams have posted a 226-167-4 record, including eight league championships and nine playoff appearances. The highlight came in 1994 when Jefferson capped a 12-1 season by winning the Michigan Class BB state championship, edging favored East Grand Rapids 19-18 in the finals at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The following week at an assembly to honor the team, the veteran coach learned the school's football facility would be named Marc L. Cisco Stadium.
His 1999 team also made a strong playoff run, reaching the state semifinals before falling 24-20 to perennial power Farmington Hills Harrison.
Before he was a coach, Cisco was a pretty accomplished athlete. At Morenci High School (Class of 1954), he earned 16 varsity letters, four each in football, basketball, baseball and track. He starred at running back on football teams that won 44 consecutive games, a Michigan record at the time, and led the state in scoring with 168 points his sophomore season.
Recruited by assistant coach Dan Devine to play at Michigan State, a national power in the mid-to-late 1950s, Cisco spent a season on the freshman squad in 1954 and was set to be a backup halfback in 1955. A severe ankle injury just before the opener against Indiana cost him that season, and he saw little action thereafter.
Cisco ultimately transferred to Toledo University and played running back (1959-60) for Rocket head coaches Harry Larche and Clive Rush.
He has been married for 38 years to second wife Donna. The couple each brought two children to the marriage and have one son, Zeke Cisco, together. Zeke Cisco started three years at quarterback for his father at Jefferson, then lettered three years as a safety at Nebraska ('91-93).
"MY FIRST EXPERIENCE with organized sports was junior high football at Morenci. I was a fifth-grader playing against eighth-graders, and they made me a center. I always wanted to carry the ball. My dad told me to play where they wanted me to play. But the next year I became a running back, and that's how it all got started."
"Three coaches from Morenci really influenced me. Bob Slovak, Mike Bicanic and Jim Baxter. I always enjoyed playing football, and Slovak was the one who made me more determined. I saw through him what could happen if you were determined. Coach Baxter was a great guy and a great football coach, and coach Bicanic was a super basketball coach. Those guys just kind of shaped my life very early in my high school career."
"DAN DEVINE WAS the backfield coach at Michigan State, and he came to our house. My mother thought he was the greatest guy in the world, and my dad liked him. Michigan State was an agricultural school at the time. I had the opportunity to go to Iowa and Indiana and Michigan on full scholarship, but my dad was a farmer, and he liked Michigan State. That had something to do with my decision. Duffy Daugherty was an assistant coach at the time, and [Clarence] Biggie Munn was the head coach."
"WE HAD SOME great guys at Toledo. Clive Rush was a heck of a coach, and we had some good ballplayers. I had a lot of fun at both places. My highlight at Toledo was just getting the chance to play. My best game was against Bradley. They probably weren't any good, so that's probably why I had a good game. But it was fun."
"IT STARTED CLICKING [at Jefferson] around 1974, 75, 76, and then we won our first Huron League championship in 1983. We were 9-0, and it was pretty good from then on. The kids stepped up to play at that level."
"In 1994, we just had a great bunch of kids. Nobody missed practice even one time that year, and that's a long season from the middle of August until it ended the Saturday night after Thanksgiving. But everybody was always there, and we had very few injuries. We had a few bangs and bruises here and there but we had a great attitude. I don't think we had really great football players, because none of them really went on to play football in college. But they were a great bunch of kids to work with. They didn't talk much and they were serious about what they were doing. That was a great time."
"YOU NEVER KNOW what it takes to get there and, after you've been there, you still don't know what it takes to get there. That's because it takes a heck of a lot of luck along the way. We recover a fumble here, they drop a pass there, and any one of those plays could have changed the whole outcome."
"TO COACH FOR 43 years, you've got to have a wife that will support you, that's for darn sure. And you've got to have a family that supports you. My wife has been a great support, and our assistant coaches have been great. Most of them have been with me a long time. Dave Potter's been here since 1973."
"I tell the kids, 'You may not like me, but that's OK. I may not like you either. So, we're even. But this is the way I'm going to do it, and it has to be done. I don't know if I've hung onto the touch with the younger generation. Some people say that kids aren't like they used to be. No, they probably aren't. But we have just as dedicated kids today as we had in 1965. They'll go the extra mile for you."
"THEY NAMED the stadium after me after we won the state championship, and I was shocked. I had just retired [as athletic director]. My wife came home from teaching at noon, and she hardly ever came home that early. She said, 'Now, if somebody wants to do something nice for you, act decent. Act like you enjoy it.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' She said 'Nothing.' Well, that night, we honored the team at the gym, and the superintendent starts giving a speech and says they were going to name the field Marc Cisco Stadium. I said to him, 'Man, I better check my blood pressure on this sucker, because most people are dead when that happens.' He laughed. I was very honored by it."
"I WAS GOING to stay two years and wound up staying 47 years so far. I've really enjoyed it here. I've made a lot of great friends, and there's a lot of great people in this school district. I have no idea how much longer I'll coach. It could be tomorrow, it could be a year or two from now."