Beaney’s stellar hockey coaching career ends with a reflection

MIDDLEBURY — When Bill Beaney sat down this past Wednesday in Kenyon Lounge to announce he was stepping away from the Middlebury College men’s hockey team he has coached for 28 years, he touched on many topics longtime observers expected.
Beaney spoke not so much of the amazing success of his teams — 602 wins while coaching at New England and Middlebury colleges and eight NCAA Division III titles at Duke Nelson and Chip Kenyon arenas — but more about his love of the game, his pride in his athletes’ growth and accomplishments, and his relationships with his colleagues and co-workers.
Some surprises were sprinkled in, though. Beaney, a Lake Placid, N.Y., native, cited soccer as a source for one of his major hockey innovations. He also said he wished he had taken more time to enjoy his success, and, when asked how he had arrived at the decision at this particular time, acknowledged the choice caused some anxiety.
“The one thing that scared me, as my good friend Dee Rowe says, is it’s nice to have a jersey,” Beaney said. “It was difficult for me last night, when I made the decision, to take the jersey off for the last time. That scared me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.”
But he said he knew it was time to find a different, less time-consuming path in hockey, return to teaching his popular January term course, remain the Panther men’s golf coach and retain other roles within Middlebury’s athletic department.
“All coaches in here will go through it. I think you’ll know when it’s time when you can go in another direction and perhaps become a little more effective, perhaps a little more fulfilled. And it’s always good to look for new challenges and look for new things,” Beaney said.
Unsurprisingly, his voice cracked as he described his decision by quoting late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano.
“I’ve had a lot of calls today. I’ve had a lot of emails. And we’ve talked about how I was feeling. And I said I will get emotional, but I will get over it. I’ve had a great day. It’s a great day,” Beaney said. “And to use the phrase, ‘I’ve laughed a lot. I’ve cried. And I’ve told a lot of people that I loved them.’”
Typically, Beaney’s humor also didn’t take long to surface. He opened his statement on Wednesday by citing longtime Burlington Free Press reporter Ted Ryan’s semi-retirement as his motivation.
“It’s been a couple years since Ted Ryan retired, and he’s looked a lot better,” Beaney said.
A little hint of Beaney’s competitive nature as well as humor also came out when he was asked if he had heard from coaching rivals Mike McShane of Norwich and Bob Emery of Plattsburgh. Beaney reminded the crowd of a highlight of his last season, a Friday-Saturday sweep of the Cadets and Cardinals.
“They aren’t talking to me since we swept them on the weekend,” said Beaney, who also captained his University of New Hampshire hockey team and coached BFA-St. Albans to three Vermont high school titles before moving to the college ranks.
Asked about his influence on USA Hockey through his “small-game” approach and whether that would lead to further opportunities with that organization, Beaney again joked before saying now he hoped he would have time to do more work for that organization.
“The perception that I know what I’m doing creates opportunities, for sure,” Beaney said.
He said those small-sided practice techniques — breaking into small groups in practice to sharpen passing and off-puck movement — came from coaching women’s soccer during his first seven years at Middlebury as well as men’s hockey; he switched to leading the men’s golf team after that stint.
“I’ll say one of the best things that happened to me was becoming a soccer coach. I learned a lot about small-area play, small games, coaching soccer, and translated a lot of that into hockey,” he said.
That approach has become a major building block of USA Hockey, for which Beaney has coached U.S. Women’s Junior National and Junior Olympic teams and assisted the 1994 U.S. Junior National men’s team.
Not only do small-sided techniques break team sports down to their essence, said Middlebury College Director of Athletics Erin Quinn, but they are also effective in building leadership skills.
Beaney is widely credited as an innovator and a coach that other coaches look to for ideas, and after Wednesday’s press conference Quinn illustrated Beaney’s impact.
Before Quinn took over as the Panther AD, he coached the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team for 15 years, winning the NCAA Division III title in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
But in 1999, Quinn said the team was not playing to its potential. Quinn and his assistants, including Bob Ritter (who is now also the Panther football head coach) met.
“We were sitting around as a coaching staff and struggling with leadership and character on the team, and we all looked at each other, and I think it was Bob Ritter who said, ‘Our kids are too good of kids for us to have leadership problems, and we’re at Middlebury College, and we’ve got a guy down the hallway, Bill Beaney, who does this as well as anybody,’” Quinn recalled.
Ritter spoke to Beaney and reported to the group at their next meeting, Quinn recalled.
“He comes back, and says, ‘I can’t believe we haven’t had this conversation earlier. We’re putting in small-sided games, and that’s how we’re going to address our leadership issues as well as some of our play issues,’” Quinn said. “We ended up going to the national championship game. The next three years we won the national championship. Is it because of that conversation? No, but that’s definitely part of it.”
Quinn also talked about Beaney’s larger impact at Middlebury, including noting that Beaney was the coach “in a really great department with a lot of really great coaches” and that Beaney was the coach he and Ritter turned to in a crisis. Quinn said that Beaney’s tenure went beyond wins and losses.
“He’s at the leading edge of being an innovator as a coach, being a leader on our staff and among our staff, the importance of hockey in our local community and all the stuff he and his players have done in the community,” Quinn said. “He’s impacted his golfers. He’s impacted his hockey players. He’s impacted all the students who have taken his J-term class. And he’s had an impact on all the coaches in the department as a role model.”
Beaney did offer one suggestion about wins and losses to his successor, who Quinn said will be chosen with a far-flung search led by a committee that is being formed, the college’s traditional process.
“My advice would be to just enjoy the heck out of every day. I think as I reflected back on my career, the one thing I would do differently is I would have enjoyed the highs more. I think when you get on that roller coaster, so to speak, you’re on to the next thing. You know, take a deep breath and enjoy the opportunities and the successes you have,” Beaney said.
Beaney, as competitive as he is, said he would not look back at the wins with the most pride.
“For me, the most important piece is watching the people who graduate. They graduate with self-reliance. I love the theory of leadership when at the end of the day, when you’ve pushed and prodded and challenged and encouraged and all that, that the players, the people involved, they come away with the feeling they did it themselves,” he said.
“If you can help young people come away having that self-reliance, being able to solve those problems and grow as people, you know what? It’s worth every second you spend together.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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