Assistant Sports Editor
For the past 27 years, Peter Haley has sat, paced and taught from the sideline for Springfield College. Unfortunately every great run has its finish line, and Haley’s came, on his own terms, as he announced his resignation during halftime of the NEWMAC Championship game on Nov. 6.
Trailing Babson 1-0 at the half, Haley told his team that whenever this season ended, so too would his tenure as their coach. What followed can only be described as incredible. Springfield tied the game in the second half before downing the top-seeded Beavers in penalty kicks to win their first NEWMAC title since 1999.
“It certainly was a great script,” said Haley of the team’s finish. “Someone close to me told me ‘we could lose this game and you could get on that bus and ride home without them knowing it was your last game.’ That really hit home. It was hard to say, and I believe the players could tell.”
Haley began contemplating leaving the sideline four years ago, as he found himself becoming more reflective about his career. As the years went on, he began to think heavily on the idea of hanging it up before deciding earlier in the fall that this would be his final season.
As the season played out, Haley started to see things differently. Each road trip became a farewell tour; it was the last trip to Endicott, or Wheaton or WPI. When the Pride took on Western Connecticut in the last home game for the seniors, the moment really hit home.
“Listening to Scott [Donofrio] and Eric [Stalsburg] talk about how it was ‘their last home game’ and the importance of that got to me. I had to step away because I actually got a little choked up. It wasn’t really until then that it became my last home game as well.
“Longevity has a way of bringing fondness to the heart,” said Haley. “Realizing it would be the last time I would be there for the national anthem at Springfield College…everything became the last time.”
Haley graduated from Springfield College as an undergraduate in 1977, then as a graduate student in 1978. After graduating, Haley coached for two years at the high school level, then for four years at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
Haley was the first player ever to be named a three-time captain while playing for Irv Schmid, the coach he would eventually replace in 1985. Since then, the Pride have captured an ECAC title (1989), two Northeast-8 Championships (1988, 1989) and two NEWMAC Championships (1999, 2011).
When it comes to coaching in the future, Haley is uncertain but does not rule it out.
“You can never say never, but for now I would say no. The sport is like an iceberg. You can come watch us play, but that is just the tip. Under it is all the hard work, study, film, and practice and recruiting. I’m not sure I have the energy for all that goes into it at this point.”
Assistant coach Steffan Seibert is one person who is aware of just how big the iceberg is. Seibert has been an assistant for the last three seasons, joining the program after moving here from Germany by way of Missouri.
“My first day at Springfield, I parked my car behind the Wellness Center with everything I own in it,” recalls Seibert. “I was only inside for maybe 10 minutes but when I came out, everything was gone. My driver’s license, my visas…everything I own was gone. Haley looked at me and said ‘Steffan, I just met you, but my home is open. You can stay with us for as long as you need.’”
“What I have gained from coach Haley goes far beyond soccer. The way he cares about other people. If you go to a restaurant, he will go last in line, he will take the farthest parking spot. Little things like that make the biggest difference.”
Junior David Chessen, who just finished his second year as captain of the team, echoes those feelings.
“Coach has always been more of a father figure than a coach,” said Chessen. “Playing for him has taught me how to be respectful, how to work hard and the value of working hard for what you want.”
Chessen remembers that Babson game and the feeling they all shared following Haley’s announcement. As he recalls, the pre-second half players’ circle had “a few expletives,” but was all about winning that game for Haley.
One of two seniors on the team, Stalsburg, expressed similar feelings about that whirlwind second half.
“His speech during the championship game literally brought me to tears,” said Stalsburg in an e-mail. “It inspired us to supersede our expectations and truly become ‘bushmen,’ as he liked to call it.”
Haley cited work ethic as a quality he looks for in each and every player and a quality he took from his father, Fran, and mother, Angelina.
“My father was an electrician who coached my youth teams without knowing any soccer. My mother is 88-years-old and still works here at the school for Aramark. They taught me the value of hard work, and I consider myself a blue-collar guy despite my white collar,” said Haley.
Stalsburg summed up what Haley has meant to Springfield College:
“People always say ‘you are wearing Springfield on your jersey’ or ‘play with pride’ to motivate one another but don’t follow it. There is no doubt that coach Haley has Springfield etched in his heart and truly bleeds maroon.
“Becoming part of the men’s soccer family was the best decision I have ever made. He will truly be missed, but his legacy will live on through all of us and the future soccer players to come.
“Thank you, Coach Haley.”
Jimmy Kelley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org