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The pack's new leader: Former Calumet coach French hired to take over Michigan City football program

Like many coaches, Cody French wasn’t necessarily looking to make a move.

“I had no intention to leave Calumet as soon as I did,” French said. “I was expecting to be there five, six years. That was the tough part of the decision. But timing is everything and you can’t control the timing.”

French, who was 15-6 in two seasons with the Class 3A Warriors, was approved as Michigan City’s head coach at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“I’m excited about it,” French said. “At 31, I thought the opportunity to be head coach in the Duneland Conference was something that I thought would come further down the line. Everything about the place attracted me. It’s kind of a dream scenario. The stadium is one of the best setups in the state, downtown, with no track around it. As I went through the process, met the people, I could see the commitment to wanting good football. I was lucky enough at Calumet to have some success to build upon, and Michigan City’s similar situation. I take over from a guy who did a great job and left a great foundation.”

Phil Mason resigned last month after seven seasons with the Wolves, subsequently taking the same job at Griffith, while assistant coach Roy Richards became Portage’s head coach. City was 2-8 last season but made it to three Class 5A semistates in the prior six years.

“As I started to pursue the job, I talked to Phil, Roy and (former MC assistant) John Maurek multiple times,” French said. “It’s a place you can have long-term, sustained success. It’s been done recently. I checked out film and one thing that really stood out was the young talent on the roster. The resources are obviously well-known with the running back (Jaden Hart) and quarterback (Tyler Bush). They’re returning a lot to work with. Jaden’s brother is a talented wide receiver. They have a good youth program.”

Calumet went 9-2 last season, the best record in school history. While his background was as a defensive coach, French coordinated a Warriors offense that averaged 37.5 points per game. Prior to Calumet, he was an assistant at Seymour and Elkhart under Josh Shattuck, his high school coach at Gladwin (Michigan). He was the assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and strength coach at Elkhart, which won its first sectional and Northern Indiana Conference titles in over 20 years. He was defensive line and strength coach at Seymour, helping the Owls to their first eight-win season in 15-plus years.

“Something I learned from coach Shattuck is everything’s about getting ready to be playing your best football at the end of the year,” French said.

The urban coaching background was a major selling point for French with Michigan City, where the off-field duties may be more substantial than those on it.

“Elkhart is exactly the same as Michigan City,” French said. “The football part is the easy part. There’s a lot of non-football related work. It’s something I’ve always dealt with, something I’ve always had to do. Every school has its things that make it tick. Coming up with common goals, getting the kids to believe in being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, finding opportunities for them to play at the next level, that’s the challenge. I’m very excited to meet the kids.”

French is an advocate of open spring practices so players can get college exposure without having to travel to a camp.

A three-time Academic All-American at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude, French will also help facilitate career building options for athletes that don’t involve football or traditional college.

“We’re going to continue to work hard for the kids 24-7, not just football, not just in-season, make sure they do what they need to do in the classroom,” he said.

On the field, French doesn’t figure to change much with the offense, running a spread attack, while taking a multiple defensive approach that adjusts to opponents’ schemes.

“We’re still hammering out details,” he said. “One of the things that stood out in pursuing the job, talking to Roy, was (the defense) flying around, getting to the football. I’m excited to work with the group. We’ll put a game plan in with realistic expectations, knowing we’re going against hall of fame head coaches week in, week out. Out of conference, there are no breaks either. Warsaw is a tough, physical running team, and (Lafayette) Jeff is a talented spread team. Both teams will prepare us for the duality of the Duneland Conference. It sets us up to compete week in and week out, and to be playing at a high level for the tournament.”

Three members of French’s Calumet staff will join him at Michigan City, where most of the prior staff is moving on. He’s working on adding other former colleagues and hopes to retain current assistant Charles Salary.

“We’re trying hard to keep coach Salary,” French said. “He’s someone who can really help out. I’ve got a few options and we’re going to take some time to make a decision. The Duneland Conference is arguably as good as it’s ever been, and it’s going to take a whole staff committed to being good in order to be competitive in the conference. The best way I can say it is we’re going to go into every game expecting to win.”

An Assistant Athletics Director at Calumet, French will teach Physical Education/Strength and Conditioning at Michigan City, similar to the position Mason held.

“It’s a good setup. That was a huge part of the attraction,” French said. “Not being an assistant A.D., there’s not the same time commitment, which is good for my family.”

Specifics on when French, who lives in Hobart, will start at MC are still to be determined, though it is expected to be within the next month.

“They’re still working out the details on the exact timing,” he said. “I’ll probably be over there sometime this (spring), but I have a lot of respect for Calumet and I’m going to let people who are on a different pay scale than me to figure that out. We’ll eventually be moving, but it’s an easy drive, so there’s no rush.”

Football acumen is only a part of being a successful football coach, and Josh Shattuck, who has coached and coached with rench, believes his former colleague has the ‘it’ factor to go with the Xs and Os.

“I don’t like to compare coaches, players, but anybody who knows Cody knows his relationship building with kids of all demographics is an elite skill,” Shattuck said. “He’s one of a kind when it comes to that. He can make friends with about anybody. When you can make life-long connections with players, build legitimate relationships, and you have guys, the rest will take care of itself.”

A head coach at Gladwin (Michigan) High School when he was 22, Shattuck had French as a senior on his first team in 2009.

“He looked a lot different then,” Shattuck said. “He played a little of everything, quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, fullback. He probably played every position.”

The two stayed in contact while French was playing football at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer. Shattuck was at Seymour in southern Indiana when French graduated and gave him his first job, coaching the defensive line.

“He’s a college level defensive line coach who turned into a good big school coordinator,” Shattuck said.

When Shattuck came to Elkhart Central in 2017, he brought French with him as co-defensive coordinator, helping the Elkhart consolidation to a Class 6A sectional title in 2020. Their teams finished with a top three defense in their class three times.

French initially accepted a head coaching job at Niles (Michigan), but resigned to go to Calumet before the 2021 season. A year later, Shattuck moved on to East Grand Rapids.

“This was year 15 for me and there’s no substitute for being a head coach,” Shattuck said. “No one knows until you do it. He needed that foresight. He wanted to be a head coach in the first place, (Calumet) gave him the opportunity and he did a great job there. He learned as much as he could from the experience, which prepared him for this job.”

Shattuck believes coaching in an urban setting at Elkhart and Calumet will serve French well at Michigan City.

“Michigan City and Elkhart are exactly the same place,” Shattuck said. “We were able to turn it around. If you hit it right, the kids are there. He knows how to do it. With that demographic, if you can make a connection and you can coach football, it’s going to be a good thing. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one he’s ready for, and he’ll do a great job.”

Sara Kuntarich, Calumet's Athletics Director, highlighted similar qualities in French.

"MC is making a stellar hire with coach French," she said. "Coach French made an immediate impact at our school, with our community and football program. The positive relationships that were formed with his players, football/school staff and administration will last a lifetime. I'm sad to see coach French, but excited to see what he does at Michigan City. They are in good hands."

Michigan City Athletics Director Craig Shaman said that French ‘ticked all of the right boxes for Michigan City.’

“He’s passionate, driven and energetic. He knows the game, he’s got a track record of success, and he truly cares about kids,” Shaman said in a media release. “We are thrilled to have him on board."

Cody French is the new head football coach at Michigan City.

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