In Play with Tom Markowski

Black History Month: Robert Lynch can't say no to coaching track, helping kids

Track and Field   | Tom Markowski

Black History Month: Robert Lynch can't say no to coaching track, helping kids

Oak Park – Robert Lynch made countless choices throughout his life that have affected the course of his life.

He’ll tell you one of the best decisions he made was the one that continues to affect him today.

Lynch is the track coach at Oak Park and last season he guided his team to the school’s second state title (Division 1) in boys track in school history.

Oak Park won its first title in 1972 (Class A).

Lynch, 72, who was born and raised in Mobile, Ala., began coaching in 1968 at Detroit Northern under Woody Thomas, a coaching legend in Detroit. Thomas was Northern’s head coach in boys track and field and football. Lynch also coached both sports. In 1971 Northern won the Class A boys track championship. Soon after, Lynch left Northern to go to Detroit Pershing with Allen Tellis.

Lynch landed his first head coaching position in ’75 when he took over the track program at Detroit DePorres. Lynch was also hired as an assistant football coaching position under Ron Thompson. Lynch was part of four state championship teams (1978-83) at DePorres. Lynch’s boys track teams won seven state titles at DePorres.

After a brief stint as a coach at Detroit Murray-Wight, Lynch took over the track and football programs at Detroit Mumford in ‘85. That’s where he remained, and became a figurehead, until 2012 when he retired from teaching and ended his time there as a coach. Mumford won four boys state track titles with Lynch as coach,  

But Lynch wasn’t ready to retire completely, and still isn’t. He took his trade a few miles north to Oak Park High where he was reunited with Greg Carter, the school’s athletic director and football coach. Lynch and Carter coached together for eight seasons under Thompson at DePorres.

Lynch said Thomas Wilcher, the football and boys track coach at Detroit Cass Tech, attempted to lure Lynch to downtown to help with the track program. Lynch politely declined.

“I told him, you have your program,” Lynch said. “You don’t need my help.”

Lynch is content to remain at Oak Park and work with two of his former track athletes, Brandon Jiles and Chris Richards. Jiles is the head coach of the girls track team, Richards, who won the 100-yard dash in 1974 with Pershing, is Lynch's assistant with the boys. Lynch has the boys but, in essence, he works side-by-side with Jiles.

Oak Park has won the last three Division 1 girls track and field titles.

The three also team to coach the Motor City Track Club once the high school season is over.

Lynch could do a number of activities if he chose to retire. He could travel. He could kick back and enjoy retirement. But that wouldn’t be who he is. Lynch is fulfilling a calling and he isn’t done yet.

“The only reason I stayed in coaching was to save kids,” he said. “I want them to make something of their lives and be a productive citizen.”

The indoor track season will end in a month or so and another high school track season will begin. Already Lynch is looking forward to defending Oak Park’s Division 1 title.

“This might be my best team since I left Mumford,” he said.

Oak Park will be led by one of the country’s top runners. Cameron Cooper is a senior who specializes in the half mile and the mile. Cooper owns one of the best times in the country in the indoor 800-meter run (1:50.07). He is undecided on which college or university he will attend.

Lynch said the first outstanding athlete he coached as a head coach was Deron Early who was at DePorres then went on to run for Houston with the great Carl Lewis.

At Northern Lynch and Thomas coached Marshall Dill who was a three-time All-America at Michigan State. As a senior in high school, Dill was named national track athlete of the year.

There have been many more since including Jiles, who graduated from Mumford before competing at Eastern Michigan.

On the girls side one of the best was Shayla Mahan. As a freshman at Mumford Mahan ran on the 400 relay team that won the Division 1 title in 2004. The next three seasons Mahan won the 100 dash and she also won the 200 dash her junior and senior seasons. She later was named All-America at South Carolina.

It must be noted that Lynch was not the head coach (Marc Parker was), he was the assistant when Mumford won Class A titles (2004-05) in the girls competition.   

Lynch was a star himself in high school (Mobile Central) and college. He competed in football and track all four years at Mississippi Valley State. He ran the two sprints and also the sprint relays. In football he started both ways, at receiver and cornerback, his last three seasons.

Football was his passion and he had a chance to make it in the NFL but decided not to sign as a free agent.

Upon graduating from Mississippi Valley State (1967), school administrators wanted to hire Lynch as their track coach but he declined that offer, too.

“I didn’t want to try out as a free agent,” he said. “I got married my sophomore year at Mississippi Valley and I had a family.

“I came to Detroit and the Minnesota Vikings wanted me in camp. I still remember what my grandmother (Rebecca Lynch) said. She made the statement that she didn’t want me to play, that she was afraid I’d get hurt.”

Lynch decided to listen to his grandmother, take care of his family and accept a more secure profession, that of a teacher and a coach.

Lynch briefly worked in a factory when he came to Detroit. By the fall of ’68 he was teaching at Jordan Middle School on the city’s east side and coaching at Northern with Thomas.

Lynch said coaching football and track go hand in hand. Although he’s not coaching football at Oak Park his prior relationship with Carter has made it a smooth transition.