MISSOULA — Popular Missoula football coach Willie Beamon, who directed the now-defunct Phoenix semi-pro team for many years, died on Friday.
He was 64 years old.
Beamon, who also served as an assistant coach for Missoula Hellgate for many years, was an all-American linebacker in both high school and college for Boise State. Before his stop with the Broncos, the southern California native was part of the 1976 UCLA team that defeated Ohio State, 23-10, in the Rose Bowl.
"He had the biggest personality of probably any coach I've ever coached with," longtime Hellgate assistant Joe Slemberger said. "He was one of the most supportive coaches to his players that I've ever met. Always there for them.
"Until the day he passed away he was calling and checking in on players he coached. He had that big belly laugh and just an infectious personality."
Beamon was drafted by the New York Jets in 1979. The defensive stalwart played a year in the pros before his back gave out and he returned to California. He and his wife moved to Missoula in 2007 to be closer to their son.
Beamon took over as coach of the Missoula Phoenix in 2008.
"We were looking for a head coach and I called him and right off the bat we knew he was the man for the job," said Dr. Michael Johnson, Phoenix co-owner, back in 2009. "We knew the fans would love him because he's got that great laugh and he's great with the media. Not to mention that Rose Bowl ring he wears and the fact that he played in the highest league of all. He just knows football.
"He's been great. The guys love him," Johnson added. "They see him as a father figure and they play so hard for him because they just don't want to let him down. We couldn't ask any more of Willie."
Beamon certainly had a knack for coaching. In his first season with the Phoenix, he guided the team the Rocky Mountain Football League playoffs and was named RMFL Coach of the Year.
For all his duties as a coach with the Phoenix, Beamon still dreamed of playing again, even in his 50s.
"Oh believe me it runs through the mind," he joked to the Missoulian in 2008. "But the body says no. I wish I could strap them on."