Jeff Beaney walked onto the ice to take his place behind his University of Southern Maine hockey players. It was time for the customary postgame handshake with their opponent.
As Beaney worked his way down the line he felt trouble coming.
He was right. The Middlebury coach, who happened to be his older brother, was angry. Soon, Bill and Jeff Beaney were in each other’s face.
John and Jim Harbaugh may be the most prominent coaching brothers to test each other, thanks to Sunday’s Super Bowl. The Harbaughs are unique because two brothers have never tested each other as head coaches of NFL teams in the season’s biggest game.
But sibling rivalry in coaching is not uncommon. Take the Beaney boys. Their teams have faced off for nearly 20 seasons. Take the Hersom twins, also named John and Jim. They’ve been head coaches in Maine high school football for about the same time, although found themselves on opposing sidelines only once.
Take the Tortorella brothers, yet another John and Jim. John is the New York Rangers head coach; Jim is the new associate head coach at the University of New Hampshire after spending 17 seasons as Colby College’s head coach.
The Tortorellas were teammates for Jack Semler-coached University of Maine teams but took different paths after they left Orono. John became a pro coach after his playing days were over. Jim took high school positions for Brunswick High and Cony High in Augusta before turning to the college ranks.
John and Jim Tortorella have never coached against each other, which may be best for everyone involved. “Let me think of the best way to say this,” said Jim Tortorella. “We have different presentations of our intensity.”
Meaning, John’s desire for his players to win burns white-hot. Jim, a year younger at 53, tempers the heat he brings to the game.
It was a heated moment when Bill and Jeff Beaney reached each other that day in December several years ago. “He was chirping at me,” said Jeff Beaney, 53, and eight years younger. He’s the coach with eight national championships. Who’s the coach who’s going to chirp back?
A brother. “I know his hot buttons better than anyone else and I pushed them,” said Jeff Beaney. “He pushed my hot buttons back.”
They left the ice in opposite directions without making peace. About 30 minutes later, Jeff Beaney saw his brother approach him, walking down a ramp in the arena. The younger brother braced himself. Then he saw the packages in Bill Beaney’s arms.
“Here are the Christmas presents for your family,” said Bill Beaney. He turned and walked away. The next day Jeff called his brother’s cell phone and left a message. Fifteen minutes later, Bill called Jeff. They made peace.
“But the thing is, he hadn’t heard my message,” said Jeff Beaney. “We’re brothers. It was silly being mad at each other and we both knew it.”
The Beaneys, Hersoms and Tortorellas don’t know the Harbaughs. Different sports, different levels of competition, different personalities. Siblings may grow apart. What practically never changes is the understanding brothers and sisters have for each other.
As twins, John and Jim Hersom are especially close. Jim’s Edward Little High team beat John’s Lawrence High team the one time they played. Edward Little won, 7-0 on a touchdown pass in the closing minutes.
“It was an emotional day,” said John Hersom. “We played on Walton Field.”
That was the field they played on for their father, Doc Hersom, the legendary Edward Little coach.
John and Jim Tortorella played hockey and baseball together growing up. In hockey, the positions were right wing and goaltender. In baseball, it was shortstop and second baseman. They talked about the sports, they lived the sports.
“We still pick each other’s brains when we talk,” said Jim Tortorella.
When John Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship, his little brother could take away a small piece of that success.
Bill Beaney currently ranks 12th in career wins among all college hockey coaches with 577 after 33 years. Jerry York at Boston College tops the list with 928 in 41 seasons.
Jeff Beaney, with 246 wins at USM in 26 seasons, isn’t on the list. In fact, Middlebury beat USM in their first dozen or so meetings. In the past five years, the outcomes between the elite private school in Vermont and the state school in Maine have been more even.
“I have such great admiration for what he’s done to take that program up another step and for the impact he’s had on his players’ lives,” said Bill Beaney, who could turn that around. Big brother coached little brother for one year at New England College. Bill Beaney had several losing seasons before Jeff arrived on the Henniker, N.H., campus
“He always remind me it was his level of play that picked me up,” said Bill Beaney. “I tell Jeff it was too bad he didn’t have a younger brother to play for him.”
Jeff Beaney will watch the Super Bowl. He thinks he knows how the Harbaugh brothers will handle victory and defeat: Each will be proud of the other.
“The parents will have it tough,” said Jeff Beaney, who remembers his own. “They won’t be able to share that high with the son who won. They’ll be feeling for the son who didn’t.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: