By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Tropea didn’t see himself coming back to high school basketball.
“I’m thrilled I’m back, but I honestly never envisioned coming back,” said Tropea, who was hired for his second stint as head coach of the Chelsea Boys basketball team on Apr. 11. “I kind of envisioned being a college coach.”
The day after the Bulldogs fell in districts in March, Tropea received a text, telling him then head coach Mark Moundros was stepping down, getting married, and moving out of state.
Tropea reached out to Moundros who confirmed the news.
The next week, Tropea was sitting down with Chelsea Athletic Director Brad Bush who asked him if he would be interested in coming back and Tropea told him he would be.
Tropea has always wanted to be a coach. His favorite sport was always basketball, but at five- foot five he played college baseball because that’s where he excelled.
Halfway through college, he realized baseball wasn’t in his long-term future, and gave up the sport to begin coaching basketball at Walled Lake Western under Rex Stanczak, who he considers a mentor, and was his high school coach when he played at South Lyon High School.
“Rex took the Walled Lake job, needed a junior varsity coach, and not many 21-year old’s get a chance to be a junior varsity coach, so I took it,” said Tropea. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Tropea then coached at Whitmore Lake before moving to Ypsilanti to teach. Ypsilanti wanted him to coach as well, so he stepped down at Whitmore Lake and coached varsity girls and junior varsity boys at Ypsilanti.
Next, he got an opportunity to be a varsity head coach at Howell, earning Associated Press Honorable Mention Coach of the Year there, with the goal of trying to turn that job into a teaching job.
“My wife, Alicia, and I, at the time we were engaged, but they didn’t have any teaching jobs, so I just stayed at Ypsilanti (teaching),” said Tropea. “Then the Milan job opened, and they did give me a teaching job, which was great. That was what I was trying to do. I was trying to find the coaching job where I could teach, and Milan gave me the special education teaching job and the coaching job, and I was there for five years.”
Tropea compiled a 92-27 record in five seasons, culminating with a Class B state title in 2014.
At that time, he was living in Saline, his wife was looking for a new job and he ran into Bush. Bush asked Tropea if he would be interested in coming back to lead Chelsea’s basketball program, letting him know Chelsea had special education teaching jobs available too.
Tropea had to go through the interview and hiring process and ended up getting the teaching job, leading to taking the head coaching position.
In addition to his wife’s job change, his two sons, Luke and Zack, had reached an age where they were both going to be in school. The Tropea’s wanted a place to raise their kids, Chelsea became that place.
“Working in Chelsea as a teacher is an incredible opportunity, it’s the best place I have ever worked as an educator and that’s where you put your food on the table,” said Tropea, a special education teacher at Beach Middle School. “Don’t get me wrong I love coaching too, but it’s the best place I have ever taught at.”
In 2016, after two years at Chelsea, Tropea left to become an assistant basketball coach at Spring Arbor.
His departure came for a myriad of reasons. Tropea had always wanted to be a college basketball coach and after putting in the effort to rebuild two programs back to back, he needed a break.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t, but I hit a bit of a burn out in high school basketball,” said Tropea. “When I took over Milan it was not in good shape, we put a ton of time into that, I had babies at home, but I put a ton of time in to build that (program). Then I had to do it again in Chelsea, you know Chelsea was 3-39 in the two years before I got here. We had 11 kids at camp work the first summer I got here, no youth program, and it was a complete overhaul, I’ll be honest those two years just fried me.”
Throughout his years of coaching and networking he met Ryan Cottingham, the Spring Arbor basketball head coach. When Cottingham overhauled his staff in 2016, he reached out to Tropea.
“It was a perfect time to decompress,” said Tropea on his stint at Spring Arbor. “Be an assistant, go coach college where you don’t have to worry about your base play, you don’t have to worry about parents. You just show up and coach men. The timing was right, so I gave it a crack.”
Tropea handled recruiting and ran the offense, and with his return to Chelsea, brings much more experience.
“Honestly it was one of the coolest things because of the shot clock,” said Tropea on being able to adapt to the college game. “I learned so much about the game and the college game is so different than the high school game. Offensively I had to adapt, it used to be, just be patient, get a good shot. But now we’ve got to get a good shot, quickly. It made me a much, much better coach. I told the Chelsea kids this spring, ‘some of you were freshmen when I left, and I know you’re frustrated because I get some of the why did you leave anyway?’ kind of thing. But you’re getting a much better version of me now, I’m a much better coach than I was two years ago, and that was because of the college game, and being around those coaches.”
When Tropea took the job at Spring Arbor, the family still lived in Chelsea, so some nights he would be driving home from away games not returning until well past midnight.
The decision to come back, wasn’t made lightly. Tropea only wanted the job if he was the right candidate.
“I told (Bush) if they had good candidates and had people I felt were ready to take the job, I wouldn’t do that, I’d let them do their thing,” said Tropea. “(Bush and I) sat down for a long time, we met three or four times, just talked it out. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t still burned out.”
Tropea told The Sun Times that Bush was key in him returning, helping alleviate any worries that he had with his prior stint.
“I’ll be honest with you, I felt like I let some people down,” said Tropea. “And again, I thought Mark (Moundros) did a great job. I still feel like I let some people down when I left the first time, that I didn’t see it through. I felt like this was kind of my chance to make a wrong, right.”
With Tropea’s return to Chelsea, what does he envision seeing through after a turnaround of the program in his first stint here?
“You know I got eight or nine years left to teach and then I can retire. I’ll also coach until I retire,” said Tropea. “I hope that in eight or nine years I can give the team to somebody and it’s just a machine. One of the better class B teams in the state. That’s my hope.”
With his experience at the collegiate level, Tropea will be bringing back some of that knowledge and experience to the Bulldogs this winter.
“I think that our approach of three’s and layups is what we’re going for on offense,” said Tropea. “I think we guarded too many people, as strange as that sounds, from a collegiate level I really learned that we don’t have to guard everybody, there are some guys that we want to shoot the basketball, and we’re going to be better at that, this time. There’s going to be guys in the team that we want to shoot the ball. I think offensively we’ll move the ball side to side much better, we’ll attack the gaps better. I think that the emphasis on position-less basketball, making everybody in our program someone that can handle it and shoot it.”