Souhegan football coach Beliveau calls it a career
Souhegan head coach Mike Beliveau talks to his team at practice in Amherst. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
After the 1994 season, just three years after Souhegan of Amherst started playing varsity football, Bill Dod, the athletic director at the time, turned to a young assistant coach on the staff to fill the head coaching post.
"Bill told me at the time that he knew I could do the job," said Mike Beliveau. "My reply back to him was 'what evidence do you have of that?' But looking back he really believed in me and I owe him a lot."
Today, Dod would probably say "job well done." After 18 years at the helm, with 10 championship game appearances and four state championship titles, Beliveau announced he is stepping down following his team's season finale against Merrimack on Thanksgiving Day.
Beliveau said he announced his decision to his team 30 minutes after his top-ranked team lost a 54-53 Division III semifinal overtime decision to fourth-ranked Goffstown in Amherst Saturday.
"The timing was probably not the best, but I wanted the entire team to hear it first from me," said Beliveau. "The meeting was emotional. We wanted to win the state title this year and I wanted to go out on top with this group of seniors. Unfortunately it won't happen. But we still have one game left to finish on a winning note and it's important we do it."
Beliveau said he had time to reflect before making his decision. He based it on three things.
"My son (Tim) is playing football for St. Lawrence University and the free time will give me a chance to see him play next year when he enters his sophomore season," said Beliveau. "The second thing is I've always had an eye open towards coaching at the college level as either an assistant or head coach. That's something I'd like to do if the opportunity presents itself. Lastly, and as I told my wife the other day, it felt strange being an empty nester at home. My three children are all grown and have moved out. That takes a while to get used to and just made me think it was maybe time to move into another direction."
Beliveau certainly will be remembered for fielding 17 winning season teams, four of which netted state titles.
He had some tough shoes to fill, taking over a third-year program that achieved instant success under Jim Mullaney. In 1992, Souhegan's first varsity season, the Sabers qualified for the Division II state championship game and lost 36-34 to a powerful Somersworth squad that was working on a three-year championship run (1991-93) of its own under former coach Jim Keays.
The following season Souhegan qualified for the state playoffs and lost to Larry Carle's Newport team in the semifinals. Scott Laliberte stepped in for one season before taking the head post at Bishop Brady, opening the door for Beliveau.
His first season was the roughest one, going 2-6 in the old Division III that included the "Big 4" of Plymouth under Chuck Lenahan, Laconia under Jim Fitzgerald, Kennett of Conway under Gary Millen and Kingswood of Wolfeboro under Bill Lee. Slowly, though, Beliveau started pecking away, gradually getting Souhegan past Kingswood, then Kennett and Laconia.
"I never had a losing season after my first year," he said. "My only regret was never beating Plymouth in the state finals. We played them five times and laid an egg (got blown out) three times in the Land of Lenahan.
"I still wonder to this day why I made all those decisions to kick the ball to Mike Boyle," added Beliveau, who had only two wins against Lenahan in 21 career meetings. Plymouth quarterback Mike Boyle was 44-0 in his career, leading the Bobcats to four state titles (2000-03).
Souhegan beat Plymouth in the semifinals en route to the program's first title in 2004. Three more would follow in consecutive years (2008-09) including a 12-0 campaign in 2008 that set the school record for most wins in a season.
Beliveau called running back Sean Jellison the "greatest player I've ever coached" and extended praise and thanks to his top assistant, Scott Prescott, of 14 seasons. It should be noted that three of his former assistant coaches, Milton Robinson (Hollis-Brookline), Justin Hufft (Goffstown) and Joe Battista (Merrimack) landed head coaching jobs.
Beliveau suffered a personal setback this season when he was suspended one game by the NHIAA for scouting/taping a practice at Winnacunnet of Hampton, He came back to coach his team to nine straight wins after an opening day non-division loss to the Division II Warriors. Souhegan defeated Division I Manchester Central four weeks ago.
"I want to thank Souhegan and everyone connected to the program over the years," he said. "Right now I don't know where, but I'll be back coaching again."