By Matt Williams
---- — Eight years ago, Mark Bettencourt made sure that one of Peabody’s most successful high school sports programs entered a new era with stability and success.
Now, he’s being asked to do it again.
Peabody High officially hired Bettencourt as the 21st head football coach in the school’s history yesterday, after an eight-person search committee unanimously recommended him to Superintendent Joe Mastrocola.
Bettencourt is entering his ninth season as Peabody’s head baseball coach and takes over a football program that last fall endured its first winless season (0-10) since 1958.
“I’m humbled to have this opportunity,” Bettencourt, 40, said yesterday. “As a coach, its the most exciting thing that’s happened to me since I got the baseball job. Having the chance to go back to your high school and positively impact kids the way coach (Ed) Nizwantowski and his staff impacted me when I played is an honor.”
The quarterback of Peabody’s 1990 Super Bowl championship team, Bettencourt was a football assistant for three seasons at Peabody from 2007-09. He also assisted the football team while he was head baseball coach at UMass-Boston, and topped a field of 16 applicants for the Peabody High job.
The search committee interviewed seven candidates — including three current high school head coaches, one a Super Bowl winner. Bettencourt, a finalist for the job in 2008 when it went to Scott Wlasuk, was the unanimous choice.
“We had some great applicants,” Athletic Director Phil Sheridan said. “The reaction after Mark left the room for his interview was amazing. One of the guys on the committee said he was ready to put his helmet on after listening to Mark speak.”
Bettencourt immediately brought Dave Bettencourt aboard as defensive coordinator and line coach, bringing a wealth of experience. He also plans to have Peabody alums Bob Murphy and Jimmy Festa to coach the linebackers. Matt O’Brien, who served as interim coach after Wlasuk stepped down after five games last fall, will return to help with the offense and last year’s freshman coach, Mark Falco, will move up to varsity.
“Many of these guys played for Peabody, and many of them have rings,” said Bettencourt, who was inundated with text messages offering congratulations and help yesterday. “That’s important to me and I want to bring that family atmosphere that Peabody always had.”
As for a coaching philosophy, Bettencourt plans to lean on the running game. He will emphasize fundamentals and technique, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
“It’s a hard-nosed town and we’re going to play hard-nosed ball,” he said. “My uncles played for Arthur Adamopoulos and he ran the same offense for 20 years. Niz added some wrinkles and had success with it for 20 more years. We want to follow in those footsteps.”
Peabody was hampered by youth and tumult throughout last season. A roster filled with promising sophomores like Ryan Collins, Mike Raymond and Tanner Moquin struggled at the varsity level and began 0-5 before Wlasuk resigned. The team didn’t hold a lead all season and set a school record for points allowed while being outscored 420-78.
The football program, once the most successful on the North Shore, has fallen on hard times since Nizwantowski (175-59-4 from 1982-2004) was ousted eight years ago. The Tanners were 6-25 under Paul Uva (2005-06) and Dick Woodbury (2007); Wlasuk then went 17-31 in 4 1/2 seasons, including a promising 10-11 mark in 2010-11.
“I look at all the time, the heart and the soul that Scott poured into this program, and I told him yesterday that I won’t let that work go to waste. No way,” Bettencourt said. “I think there have been some positive steps the last few years that we can build on.”
Hard work is the only way to ensure success, Bettencourt said. He emphasized that the Tanners’ preseason training camp this August will be essential to the team’s success, and much like his successful baseball program, he will emphasize practicing the way you play and accountability.
“I don’t go out trying to win. Winning is a byproduct of the way you practice and of doing the right things,” said Bettencourt, who has a 130-53 record as baseball coach with seven league championships and one Division 1 North finals appearance.
“Discipline, dedication, relentless work ethic and good character. That’s what I expect and I believe those four things are the foundation. It’s the only way I know how to operate. I expect everybody to be on the same page, fighting for the guy next to him.”
A Lynnfield police officer, Bettencourt lives in Peabody with his wife and children. He played baseball at Boston College after graduating from Peabody High.
“If nothing else, I think we’ll have a disciplined, hard-hitting, good blocking and good tackling football team,” Sheridan said. “Mark is organized, he’s passionate and he’s knowledgeable.”
Peabody will open next year’s schedule with non-league games against Lynn English and Somerville before facing its NEC divisional foes (Salem, Revere, Winthrop, Danvers and Lynn Classical). The rest of the schedule will be determined by the MIAA as part of the new playoff system with Peabody remaining in Division 1 after being denied an MIAA appeal to move down during the rebuilding phase. Saugus, which is moving to the Cape Ann League, remains the Thanksgiving opponent.
Bettencourt plans to build relationships with the Raiders Youth Football program and hopes to meet with his high school players on Monday.
“We want to build this program up to the highest level,” Bettencourt said. “Its about getting the kids to buy in to the philosophy, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.”