Q&A with Aurora University coach Don Beebe

A wide receiver in the NFL for nine years – which included six Super Bowl appearances and one championship – Don Beebe was widely known for his grit displayed in Super Bowl XXVII when he denied Leon Lett an easy touchdown.

After retiring from the NFL, Beebe got into training athletes and eventually coaching. Before accepting the position at Aurora University, Beebe coached high school football at Aurora Christian, leading the school to two state championships.

Beebe recently joined FNF Coaches for an exclusive interview.

When did you start to get the sense that you wanted to get into coaching?

“During my playing days, I knew I wanted to do two things: still be around sports, and be a mentor to young men and kids. I started training kids around the country when I opened House of Speed. Now, we have 24 franchises. It gives us a chance to help boys and girls fulfill their dreams. I’ve been doing that for 21 years. After a while, I wanted to get more involved at an intimate level on a daily basis, so I got into coaching at Aurora Christian. I always knew I’d get into it in some form. I just love to coach. Most coaches say they’re competitive people, and they’re no longer able to play the game they love, so they live vicariously through the athletes they coach. It still gives me the same feelings I had on game day as a player. It gives me a chance to strive for excellence and compete.”

What was the biggest challenge when you made the transition to coaching high school football?

“When I got there, the first thing I had to do was take my knowledge of the game and bring it down to their level. To ask someone who is 15 or 16 to do some of the things I expected, it was impossible. So, I had to pull back somewhat. But I wanted to get across to the players that if they trained hard, good things would eventually happen. Quitting is not an option. Can you feel sorry for yourself? Yeah, but get over it quickly. Keep striving, and eventually you’ll do it. I have a saying that I never want to hear an athlete say, ‘I can’t.’ I say, ‘You can’t do it now, but eventually you will.’ That’s how I want to teach an athlete. You can take average skill and hard work, and you’ll do well.”

Do you run an offensive scheme similar to the K-Gun offense of those Buffalo Bills teams?

“I actually took what I learned in Buffalo with the no-huddle offense and put it into the terminology of the West Coast offense I learned in Green Bay. We’re a high-pace team, but we can slow down. We’re using the terminology of a West Coast system designed by Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren. A good example of it is Brett Favre’s offense with two backs, two receivers and one tight end.”

Who were your mentors or coaching role models? What did you learn from each?

“It depends on what type of mentor you’re asking about. My passion for the game came from my high school coach, Joe Thorgesen. He’s a Hall of Fame high school coach in Illinois, and I brought him out of retirement. I thought it would be an honor to be able to coach with him. From a character standpoint and knowing what to look for in a player and building a team, hands down it’s Marv Levy and Bill Polian. What they assembled in Buffalo was amazing. In terms of X’s and O’s, Mike Holmgren helped with wide receiver skills, running routes, getting open, how to beat guys and create space. My two wide receiver coaches – Charlie Joyner in Buffalo and Sherm Lewis in Green Bay – were two of the better mentors for receiving. I took a lot of notes and accumulated a playbook from all of the great coaches.”

How did Buffalo teams overcome the disappointment of losing in the Super Bowl over and over again?

“Character. That’s the word that comes to mind. I went to dinner with Coach Levy a month ago. I knew what he’d say, but I asked what I should be looking for in players. The first thing he said was character. That’s what they would look for – fine men of character. When Bill Polian went to Indianapolis, most people said he should draft Ryan Leaf. He took Peyton Manning due to character, and the rest is history. On that Buffalo team, we had something unique. Granted, we won a Super Bowl with the Packers, but the sustainability of that Buffalo team was historic. The closeness of that group was special; 24 guys went to all four Super Bowls. We’re all close today. Even the more flamboyant guys like Thurman Thomas were team-first. He got just as much joy out of me scoring a touchdown as when he scored one himself. Without naming names, the me-first guys dismantle teams. No matter how good a player is, you’ll win more games when you have good men, and the experience will be a lot more enjoyable.”

Family First for Beebe

Beebe had an opportunity in 2005 to join the Buffalo Bills coaching staff in 2005, but he chose instead to take a job as a high school coach at Aurora Christian (Ill.).

“I wanted to be around my four kids,” Beebe said. “I wanted to be around and be at home. I got to coach them in high school, and that was most important to me. I have no regrets at all. If you told me I could have gone into the NFL in 2005 and be a head coach by now, I would say it wouldn’t have been worth it. Coaching my son and being around my three daughters – and even coaching some volleyball – it’s been the time of my life.”

Now that Beebe’s children are out of the house, he is willing to put in longer hours to advance his career as a coach.

“First of all, college is a year-round job,” Beebe said. “The hours you put in far outweigh high school. It’s a 12-month job. In high school, of course there’s stuff to do year-round, but not at the level of college football. Recruiting is obviously the biggest difference. I will say there’s more pressure to win in college, with the exception of maybe Texas high school football. I have more players on this roster (126). Game plans are more sophisticated. The playbook is a lot thicker.”