Former Michigan wide receiver Ron Bellamy recently spoke with us about playing for the Wolverines and in the pros, coaching high school football in Michigan, Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio and much more.
Ron Bellamy suited up at wide receiver for Michigan from 1999-2002. Now, he’s a high school football coach at West Bloomfield High School in the Great Lake State. We chatted with him this week about a number of topics.
The Spun: You’re from Louisiana. How did your recruitment play out with you ending up at Michigan? What other schools were you considering and what made you choose the Wolverines?
RB: To be quite honest with you, I really liked LSU a lot coming from Louisiana. My parents and I sense that there was going to be a coaching change. At the time, Gerry DiNardo was the head coach at LSU. Coincidentally, he wound up getting fired after my freshman year, and Nick Saban, the Michigan State coach, became the head coach. Crazy how that kind of cycles. From that standpoint, I told my parents I wanted to explore my options and see where the best fit is for me. It was Michigan. A great academic school and a great football program. It was a no-brainer for me.
The Spun: During your four years at Michigan, what stands out as your favorite memory?
RB: Running out that tunnel for the very first time, to be honest with you. That was a special time, because to be honest with you, I had never been to a Michigan football game before. That was 1999 against Notre Dame.
The Spun: After you left Michigan, you played professionally in a couple of different leagues. What was your NFL experience like? I know you played in a couple of games with the Miami Dolphins and were on practice squads with the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions.
RB: Personally, it was cool being teammates with guys that you played against in college and guys you watched in college. To play with some legendary Hall of Fame guys; I had a chance to play with Junior Seau, Jason Taylor, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders, to name a few. That was the best experience for me in the NFL. What the NFL taught me is the game is a business. The NFL is 100 percent a business. I learned a lot of things that I apply to my life to this day.
The Spun: What led you back to the state of Michigan after your playing career ended? How did you get into coaching high school there?
RB: It’s interesting. When my playing career was done, I got invited by one of my buddies, a Michigan State alum, to be a volunteer coach at West Bloomfield High School. I was deciding what my transition from the NFL to what the “real world” was going to be. I was a volunteer coach and I loved every second of it, because I had a chance to work with kids and give back. From there, the principal at the time, he liked me working with the kids. He saw it first-hand. Anytime a principal can get to have a guy who played at Michigan, played in the NFL, a high-character guy, it’s a no-brainer you try to bring him to your school. At that point, I thought this might be something I might like. It might be my calling. I went back to school. I went to Wayne State University and got my masters in education. The rest has been history. It’s been quite a journey.
The Spun: This is your seventh season as the head coach at West Bloomfield. Your first couple of seasons, you weren’t winning many games. Now, you’re winning eight, nine, 10 games a season. What was that process like to build the program up?
RB: At the time I became head coach, I was 27 years old. I knew there were going to be some struggles. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do. There was going to be a learning curve. Most importantly, I wasn’t in the building because I was going to school pursuing my masters. I didn’t get a chance to work with the kids, develop relationships with them. It was just strictly football, and you’re never going to build a team that way. But we learned, I learned, the dos and the don’ts. I’m still learning. I’m still a young coach at 34 years old. But I learned a lot. I think the most important thing for us was building relationships with the kids in the community and keeping them at WBHS and not allowing them to go elsewhere.
The Spun: As someone who played Division I football and now coaches high school, how has the recruiting process changed in your eyes? How is it different from what you experienced? Is it drastically different?
RB: Oh yeah, without question. It’s funny. The good thing about it now is, being a former collegiate football player and being a former NFL guy, I know a lot of coaches. I know a lot of people. That makes it easier for me to help kids get recruited. But from a kid’s standpoint and a parent’s standpoint, when I came out there was no HUDL. There was no online, I could put a kid’s name in Google and his highlight tape pops up. They didn’t have that. It was the old school VHS. You made copies and you mailed your tape to different schools and that’s how you got your exposure. It wasn’t Rivals and Scout and ESPN300. We didn’t have that. Everything was word of mouth. It was totally different, but at the end of the day it’s still similar in that that film dictates a lot. That film is still what gets you offers.
The Spun: What is it like, from a high school coaching perspective, dealing with Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio? They are both recruiting your players. It seems like they both are very different guys.
RB: Yes, that’s correct. What’s funny is, Coach Dantonio called me this morning. He just called to say hello and see how things were going. Our relationship dates back to high school when he came to Louisiana to recruit me. He was an assistant coach at Michigan State. When I moved back to Michigan, we still had a good relationship. I sent a kid there last year (four-star wide receiver Trishton Jackson). Now he’s recruiting my kids. It’s funny how those things come in cycles. Him and coach Harbaugh have totally different temperaments, but at the same time, their goal and their job responsibility is to develop young men into fathers, husbands and people in the community. They both have the same goals and are developing strong football programs.
The Spun: During your four years at Michigan, you guys split with Michigan State. Still, that was during a stretch where Michigan won 10 of 12 in the rivalry. Now, Michigan State has won seven of eight. Has it been weird for you to see the rivalry flip a switch like that?
RB: I think it’s weird for my buddies who played at Michigan who aren’t affiliated with football. It’s not weird for me. I’ve watched coach Dantonio since I moved back to Mich. My first year with the Lions was his first year at Michigan State. I watched the transformation and how he developed the program. I’m not shocked by the change of guard in the rivalry. I’m not shocked they have become not just a regional program but a national one. Knowing what he stands for and the people on his staff, it is no shock. Around the same time, Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez. While he may be a good football coach, it wasn’t the best thing at the time for Michigan. We put our guards down at Michigan and allowed Michigan State to become a force. For people my age, our age, you think of Michigan being the dominant team in that rivalry. But to a 15-year-old kid, when he was seven, Michigan State started dominating. Most of their young lives, Michigan State has been the dominant program.
The Spun: Are you still close with any of the guys you played with at Michigan?
RB: Oh yeah. One of the things I love about Michigan is our brotherhood. I’ve saying this from knowledge. When I played in NFL, I went into the Miami Dolphins locker room my first year. Brian Griese was my teammate with Dolphins. We weren’t teammates at Michigan, but you’d never known the way Brian and I interacted. I remember another wide receiver, Chris Chambers, who played at Wisconsin, saying ‘Man, that’s crazy. You would think he was your QB.’ I told him that’s just the Michigan brotherhood.
The Spun: Watching Michigan this year, do you think they are a championship program like many people have predicted?
RB: I’d like to think they are but you just have to let it play out. You can’t say it is a championship team until you beat the teams that have won the championship, until you go into East Lansing and beat Michigan State, until you go into Columbus and beat Ohio State. Right now, you’re a program that is hoping you win a championship and get on that status as opposed to knowing you’re a championship team.
Note: Ron Bellamy’s interview is part of a series of Q&As we’re doing with former college standouts. You can read our recent interviews with Eric Devendorf here, Kenny Guiton here and Jared Zabransky here.