In sports, change is inevitable: players and coaches come and go, especially in the pro game, but college teams also experience a lot of turnover. Players, of course, graduate, and coaches often leaving for greener pastures offered by bigger contracts or for a failure to deliver a winning record. So when a coach sticks around for a long time, achieving the kind of success for a program that becomes a gold standard, it's big news when that coach announces he's stepping down.
And that's what Bill Beaney, the hockey coach for the Middlebury Panthers, who holds the NCAA career record for wins in mens' Division III hockey, announced last week, that he's stepping down as head coach after 35 years, 28 of those at Middlebury.
Beaney will stay on at the college as men's golf coach, a position he's held for 21 years, and as a mentor to other coaches.
"I think there comes a time when you need to get more out of sport than to figure out ways to try to defeat another team," Beaney said.
He jumped at the chance to move to Middlebury in 1986.
"I love division three hockey, I love small liberal arts schools. It was a chance for me to move back closer to my home in Lake Placid, and quite honestly, it's been a dream come true," he said.
Under Beaney, the Middlebury Panthers won eight NCAA Division III Championship titles, including five in row from 1995-1999. He said he's proud of the success, but in some ways is ready to be out from under the expectation of winning.
"As much as I want to say it didn't become a burden, I think those expectations do become a burden," he said. "I don't believe we ever over emphasized winning it was more about the process, it was more about helping people grow and learn the values that will help them grow into the fine young men who graduate from Middlebury College. That was always our primary emphasis, but I was just fortunate enough to coach in a sport where the players were passionate about what they were doing."
Beaney is a demanding coach and uses what he calls a discovery method. He would ask questions and aim to give players an environment to figure things out on their own. And he says, because hockey is such a difficult and humbling game to play, part of his focus was on teaching his players to "fail better", and become better because, not in spite of, their mistakes.
"I'll miss the preparation for the big game, the rival that you're playing, the electricity of game night, that I'll miss. More so what I'll miss is watching players take risks on the ice to develop a skill, some movement that they didn't have, working to be a better player. I'll miss watching players help each other be better. If I had a choice of a game or a practice, I would prefer a practice," he said.
Beaney also noted you don't have success as a coach without surrounding yourself with good people and noted that the rest of the staff at Middlebury and the administration play a key role in the program's success.