Mike Schonewolf, who coached CR football team to 2008 D-I title, dies at 63

Coach Mike Schonewolf celebrates Caesar Rodney’s 2008 Division I state title. Delaware State News file photos

CAMDEN — John Newman said it was probably the best coaching job he ever got to watch.

In November 2008, Caesar Rodney High’s football team lost to Henlopen North rival Sussex Central by 15 points.

But now it was four weeks later and the Riders were getting a second chance at the Golden Knights in the DIAA Division I state championship game.

This time, though, CR head coach Mike Schonewolf had the Riders ready. CR downed Central, 26-13, to win the state crown.

“He broke things down for the kids and showed them all the mistakes that we made,” said Newman, the longtime CR assistant coach. “He gave them a way to be successful and get better. … It was amazing.”

Mike Schonewolf giving a practice pep talk.

That state championship season was probably the crowning achievement of the 20 years Schonewolf spent coaching at CR.

But it was far from the only thing people will remember about the 63-year-old former coach, who died unexpectedly on Tuesday night in Florida.

The news seemed especially sudden for a man who was a good athlete in his own right. A talented high school quarterback, Schonewolf was a backup QB and punter on Delaware’s NCAA Division II national championship team in 1979.

Schonewolf’s wife, Kristina, posted the news about her husband’s death on social media on Wednesday.

“Last night a little after 11 p.m., my husband of 25 years met Jesus face to face,” Mrs. Schonewolf wrote. “It’s unsure what happened … it could have been a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism. What’s important to know is that Jesus was in his heart and in his life, and now there is nothing between him and his Savior!”

The news was met with shock and sadness in the CR community, with people quickly posting tributes to Schonewolf online.

Mike Schonewolf keeps close watch on his Riders from the sidelines.

“The Caesar Rodney community lost a great man,” wrote CR grad and current football assistant coach Zach Canadeloro.

“Coach had a huge impact on many students and players that went through CR, he will forever be remembered throughout this district and throughout the entire community. RIP Coach Mike Schonewolf and prayers to your family. Friday night we play this one for you.”

CR plays at Smyrna on Friday in a game that will decide the Henlopen North title.

“I’ll always remember him,” wrote Ryan Contino, another former player. “He was an outstanding coach and we loved him just as much as he loved us. He was hard on us, but we knew why.

“He saw what we didn’t and not only made us better players, but better men. He’ll be missed dearly.”

Schonewolf retired from CR in 2015 and moved to Florida. He also served as the school’s athletic director at the end of his tenure.

Capping off a 35-year coaching career, Schonewolf was the Riders’ head coach for eight seasons, finishing with a record of 49-37 and leading CR to six DIAA state tournament appearances.

When he retired in 2015, Schonewolf said that Caesar Rodney was a special place for him.

“My time at Caesar Rodney was very blessed,” said Schonewolf, whose four children all graduated from CR. “I was fortunate to be able to work with quality individuals who are good people and also good coaches. I’m thankful for (former coach) John Coveleski for providing an opportunity, for (former administrator) Dave Robinson for bringing me in and then to (superintendent) Kevin Fitzgerald for extending it to the AD job and then the football job.

In a team photo during Schonewolf’s Blue Hen playing days.

“I’ve had that up and down experience between high schools and colleges in different states. Caesar Rodney has been a great place for me.”

Schonewolf worked at CR for 20 years as both an assistant and head coach. He was also a college head coach for four years at Marietta College, a college assistant at both Marietta and Princeton and a high school assistant at Massillon (Ohio).

By Wednesday evening there were close to 400 messages about Schonewolf posted on his Facebook page. Among the many people posting things were some current high school coaches.

“Truly sorry to hear of this news,” wrote Hodgson coach Frank Moffett, a CR grad. “Coach was a great man.”

“There are no words, I’m simply devastated,” said Milford coach Shaun Strickland, another former Riders player and coach.
“Thank you Mike Schonewolf for everything you have ever done for me and taught me. You gave me a chance, and you believed in me as a young coach, I am forever in your debt!”

Newman might have known Schonewolf as well as anyone at CR.

While Newman coached for Schonewolf in football, Schonewolf coached for him in baseball.

Schonewolf giving a Rider player instructions on the sidelines.

He can tell you how Schonewolf still liked being competitive on the golf course or how he still liked to throw the ball around when he got the chance at practice. Newman can tell you how it was important to Schonewolf that things were always done the right way.

With neither man a big fan of the Internet, they would call each other occasionally to catch up.

One of those calls came Saturday night. That’s what made Wednesday’s news especially stunning.

“I was really shocked,” said Newman. “We spent a lot of time together. The thing I remember most about him is that he never let any problem or challenge get in the way. He’d try to find a way to get things done.

“He was one of those guys who could have coached anything. He was just a good coach. He had a good report with kids. He could get people to make themselves better and believe in things. It was fun to be a part of it when he was there.”