Kenai coach to go for 100 wins

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008

Jim Beeson was having second thoughts.

Wearing a shirt and tie while crunching numbers every day wasn't as appealing as it once sounded.

Interviews already under his belt and job offers on the table, Beeson dropped a class halfway through his fourth year of college, one he had an A in at the time, intentionally squandering any chance of graduating with an accounting degree.

And what may have seemed questionable at the time turned out to be perhaps his greatest move in an eventual career full of them.

A business education degree now firmly within his grasp, Beeson earned credits by coaching the junior varsity boys basketball team at his former high school in Washington.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"Once I got that first taste of coaching, I knew it was the right thing," Beeson said. "I knew that was what I wanted to do."

Beeson's 17 seasons at the helm of the Kenai Central High School boys and girls basketball teams, 12 coming on the boys sideline, has been partially overshadowed by his 19-year career as the Kardinals football coach, where he is on the cusp of becoming just the fifth member of Alaska's prestigious 100-win club, sitting one victory shy entering this week's home game against Nikiski.

Beeson, as modest as ever, said he never would have recognized his mounting total had Palmer's Rod Christiansen not entered the exclusive group last season.

"100's just a number," he said. "We're just trying to make the playoffs."

And in typical fashion, the 44-year-old KCHS teacher deflected as much credit as he could.

"There's no question for me to be able to continue to do this as long as I have, you have to have good kids and you have to have good people working for you," he said. "And if you don't have those things, you don't stay for a long time.

"The ability to be able to do both (football and basketball) and make it work speaks more to the people that I coach with than anything else."

It's those people, he says, who are directly responsible for his success, a 99-57 career record on the gridiron and four consecutive small-schools state championships (2002-05) being toted around in his back pocket.

Much of the credit can be dished out to current Kenai Central athletic director Tim Delaney, former AD and girls basketball coach Craig Jung and the late Cliff Massie, amongst many more.

"I was just fortunate to work with those guys and be able to learn from those guys," Beeson explained. "It's that kind of atmosphere that makes people want to stay here. It really seems amazing to me to think that we have won that many football games and it's a big deal getting to 100 wins."

Given what he saw at the time in the youthful Beeson, now in his 21st year of teaching after being hired as the football coach at the ripe age of 25, Jung isn't surprised at the inevitability of Beeson's coaching milestone.

"He bought into being in Kenai. I kind of learned the ropes of being in Kenai from Cliff Massie, what it meant to work here and live in this community and be a teacher and a coach at Kenai Central," said Jung, who benefited from Beeson's assistance during the 1990-91 season when the girls basketball team captured the state title. "I learned kind of how you were supposed to do things from Cliff and I can see that Jim bought into those same ideals that I had gotten from Cliff. Jim saw that that was the way to do things.

"We've just kind of always had a way that we do things at Kenai Central and Jim just kind of fit that mold," he added. "Being a Kardinal, that's what it is."

Massie, too, played a vital role in Beeson's career, not to mention his life.

When the boys basketball position opened, Jung encouraged Beeson to apply for the job despite ongoing cutbacks occurring at the school.

Beeson, laying down the rules as many of his players are accustomed to by now, told Massie he'd only apply if the former head man served as his assistant.

Done and done.

"I probably never would have made it out of my first year if I didn't have Cliff coaching with me," he recalled. "The only reason people didn't run me out of town was because Cliff was coaching with me.

"Cliff was like my Alaskan dad."

Beeson has since taken over that role for kids other than his own.

Running into former players, rehashing games and seasons past, continually fosters feelings that perhaps some of the lessons he instilled in them are transferring into their everyday lives as fathers, husbands, brothers and employees of establishments such as the Kenai Police Department and Kenai Fire Department, places Beeson joked are comprised of about half of his players.

"It's either a real good thing or a real bad thing. Either my house is going to burn to the ground or they'll get there quick and take care of it," he laughed. "I guess it will depend on who's on duty at the time."

Beeson quickly turned uncharacteristically emotional at the thought.

"Seeing kids that you had that you like to think that maybe some of the success they're having is because of some of the things they learned with you feels really good," he said.

Kenai police officer Casey Hershberger, who played four years of football and basketball under Beeson, is a living example.

"He's a great guy, a great coach -- not just a football and basketball coach as much as also a guy that's going to teach you life lessons," said Hershberger, now 29. "What it's like to be a man and owning up to things you've done wrong and making sure you're held accountable to do things right."

Hershberger is now applying those virtues to his own life and even more so in his profession, where he owns the responsibility of serving as a field training officer, something he likens to being a coach.

"You're mentoring another younger officer and teaching him how to handle situations and handle calls," explained Hershberger, who at one time coached the KCHS C-basketball team under the tutelage of Beeson. "I have no doubt some of the situations I've been put in while mentoring another officer, I've learned how to handle the situation from watching and coaching (with Beeson)."

Beeson handles some of his players like he would his own children, even paying homage to a couple of former stars, Aaron McCubbins and Jason Carlson, who both played in the '90s and spent an exorbitant amount of time at his house.

His youngest son, Nick, now boasts the middle names of Clifford, after Massie of course, and Jaron, a combination of the first names of Carlson and McCubbins, evidence of his dedication to the past and at the time, the present.

"He was my Alaskan father and probably has more to do with anything I've done," he said of Massie's influence over him. "He was always that calming influence for me. He taught me more about life itself and dealing with kids than anybody I have ever been around.

"If you were going to pick somebody to marry your daughter," Beeson added of his son's second middle namesake, "it would be one of those two."

Then, undeniably, there's the sport itself.

Beeson could sit for hours, reciting games and memories of gridiron past.

His four title teams quickly come to mind, none sweeter than the first in 2002, though, when the Kardinals -- minus their starting quarterback after breaking his arm -- shocked archrival Soldotna, 7-0, for the state crown just two weeks after enduring a 28-0 thrashing at the hands of the Stars.

"It isn't a stretch to say we got lucky," he said. "We had a group of kids who believed in everything we told them. ... It was such an odd group of kids.

"I guarantee you it meant more to that group of kids than it meant to any other group of kids I've ever had," Beeson added. "They'll talk about that for the rest of their lives."

There was the '96 team, Hershberger's senior year, which started 0-3 before finishing 6-4 and sneaking into the playoffs.

After stunning top-seeded Lathrop in the first round, Kenai came within 1 yard of possibly shocking Chugiak and advancing to the championship game, but the Kardinals fell 27-20 after a running play with roughly four seconds left was stopped just shy of the goal line.

Beeson, clearly dedicated to his craft, is still haunted by the memory.

"Every time I think about it, I think about what different play we could have ran to score a touchdown instead of the play we ran," he admitted. "We ran a play to the right and they were stunting right, if we had ran a play to the left, there's a good chance we could have scored."

At the same time, however, a smile probably creeps over his face.

"It's probably one of the best memories, too," Beeson said. "It was such an overachieving team. That year was probably my funnest year of coaching because there wasn't a whole lot of expectations for us to be any good. ... For us to get where we were at was just amazing.

"It makes you feel like at least you're doing something right. It's just a whole lot more rewarding when you're not supposed to do well and you do well."

Second-year Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. has butted heads with Beeson as both a player and a coach.

"Coach Beeson is hands down one of the best coaches in the state of Alaska. I don't think you need a record to know that," he said. "He is one of those coaches that has a plan for everything. He's always got his kids prepared to play. He can do more with less than any coach that has probably ever been in the state.

"Whether they were talented or not, you knew they were going to play you tough."

With 12 wins under his belt, Brantley can't even fathom earning another 88.

"I don't know how I'm going to get through this year, much less think 19 years down the road," he joked. "To have lasted that long, he truly has a love for the game. There's no other way someone would put two decades into a high school program other than loving the building, the kids and the sport."

Coincidentally, Beeson's first game at the helm was a 15-7 loss to Soldotna on Aug. 18, 1990, a game the Kardinals led 7-6 in the fourth quarter before squandering the lead to Bob Boudreaux's squad, the legendary coach who ranks third on the career wins list with 104.

His memory now flooded with numbers, stats and games from 19 eventful seasons, it took Beeson just a few seconds to re-experience the disappointment of that setback.

"I remember thinking I was an idiot for throwing the football," he said.

Win No. 1 came the very next week, a 47-0 thrashing of Nikiski, a game Beeson was unable to recall.

But when he eclipses the century mark, possibly Saturday, it's one he won't soon forget.

"I may get 100 wins at some point in time, but those 100 wins are a direct reflection on a whole bunch of people. Certainly not just me," he said in typical Beeson fashion.

How about catching former Eielson and North Pole coach Buck Nystrom, the winningest head man in Alaska history with 150 wins in 31 seasons?

"I won't be here that long," Beeson said.

Then again, he can't envision himself doing anything else.

And neither can anyone who knows him.

Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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