By Bill Abramson
As a player, an offensive lineman, Bill Adams was “that faceless piece of the puzzle.” As a football coach at Lynnfield High School, he was far from faceless. He was out front and was everything that a coach should be.
He was a player at the high school, college and professional levels, gaining the expertise necessary to run a football program at a high level. Make that a hall-of-fame level.
“My record wasn’t strong, so I was shocked when I got the call,” Adams said when he was notified he was among six inductees into the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in the spring.
“When I took over, our enrollment was 750 for a three-year high school,” he said. “In three years, it was 630 in a four-year high school. In 1992, the graduating class was 83 and two of the four elementary schools in town were closed. Winning didn’t mean that much to me. The parents told me I should leave for a better opportunity, but I liked the kids and the school, so I stayed.”
FOLLOWING THE ROAD MAP
When Adams first came to Lynnfield, he coached under Bill Rodan and learned about coaching high school players.
“Bill Rodan was a really fantastic coach, who had the gift of psychology to make kids feel good about themselves,” Adams recalled. “He helped me understand what high school football was all about. After I took over, I tried to make our teams the most well-prepared they could be, the most skilled in technique, the most organized, in great shape and having as much fun as we could have. I tried to do things that would make kids feel that this was worth it. When they were done, they would say, ‘That was good and I enjoyed that.’”
There were trips to the Carrier Dome to watch Syracuse play Oklahoma, to West Point for the Boston College-Army game, and to the Yale Bowl for Harvard vs. Yale. It was not unusual that the college trips were supplemented by whitewater rafting during the off-season.
“We lifted (weights) from the first week in January and we used to have Super Bowl parties at my house for the kids, cookouts, and pasta parties for the parents,” he said. “Bill Rodan did it and I kept it going. We watched game films on Sunday in the early evening with food for the kids, and then on Monday we’d watch the film with the coaches as a teaching tool. Bill painted me a huge road map to follow.”
After a decline in student enrollment, the numbers started to come back for the Pioneers and Adams felt it was time for a younger coach, a new voice, to take over the program. His 30-year coaching career had run its course.
“I’m most proud of the fact that we kept football alive in Lynnfield,” he said.
A MATTER OF BAD TIMING
The road from Swampscott to Lynnfield made stops in Worcester and Buffalo along the way.
The seventh-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins somehow found his way to upstate New York and played with the Bills for seven years as a guard. Unfortunately for Adams, the Bills had drafted Joe DeLamielleure, a guard from Michigan State, in the first round and guard Reggie McKenzie out of the University of Michigan, in the second round the next year. That was fast company for the lineman from that football power, Holy Cross.
DeLamielleure and McKenzie were part of the offensive line known as “The Electric Company” because it “turned loose The Juice.” The line opened the holes and running back OJ Simpson ran through them for 2,003 yards in 1973, the first back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in an NFL season.
Both guards were annual all-pro selections until John Hannah of the New England Patriots perennially took one of those spots. DeLamielleure wound up in the NFL Hall of Fame.
“Reggie was ridiculously fast for a lineman,” Adams said. “He only weighed 240-something, moved extremely fast, was tall, lean and muscular. DeLamielleure was thicker and was nicknamed ‘The Clydesdale.’
“I actually played more at tackle than guard, but I don’t hold any grudges. I can tell you, they were better football players. It wasn’t ideal for me, personally, but we had a pretty good time. We had OJ and he was an unbelievably huge star. When I got my opportunities, he made the game easy. You didn’t have to hold your block as long. Here was a guy who weighed 210 and was on the 4×100 NCAA record relay team from USC.”
The philosophy of the NFL at the time was to keep the offensive line intact the entire game, every game. That was driven home to Adams in his final season as the Bills were being hammered by the Seattle Seahawks, 45-3, and McKenzie dislocated his finger in the second half.
“Reggie got hurt so I got to play for a series,” Adams said. “We got a couple of first downs and kicked the field goal. Meanwhile, they yanked Reggie’s finger, put it back in place, taped it up and sent him back in the game the next series.”
“I had a decision to make,” he added. “I didn’t want my family life to be all messed up. My son, Bill Jr., was starting school and there were two all-pro guards, one my age and one a year younger. I was 30 and I knew they had to get younger at the position so I retired.”
THE MAKING OF A COLLEGE GUARD
Adams chose to attend Holy Cross College in Worcester and hoped to become a linebacker for the Crusaders.
“I played the line in high school at 217 and after my senior year of basketball, began lifting by myself and gained about 10 pounds,” Adams recalled with a chuckle. “I played in the Agganis Game at 232 and the coaches at The
Cross said I’d have to play guard. I was 235 and I was the biggest guy on the team. My linebacking career lasted one day. They asked me to run sideways, then backwards and then they said ‘guard.’”
Freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity sports at that time, and Adams’ varsity career got off to a rocky start when his sophomore season was canceled due to a hepatitis outbreak. In his junior season, the team went 0-10 and, as a senior, he was playing under his third head coach. He managed to be named the Davitt Award winner as the team’s best offensive lineman.
A BIG BLUE BEGINNING
Playing for legendary high school coach Stan Bondelevitch at Swampscott, Adams was part of the glory days of the football program. The seeds of a hall-of-fame coaching career were sown in Swampscott.
“Playing for Bondy was a ton of fun,” Adams said. “As a motivator, he understood the psychology of football better than anyone I’ve known. He was a gifted orator at pre-practice and post-practice. Every day, he talked about interesting things about life, more than football. He was just fantastic.”
“The assistant coaches were Dick Lynch, and Frank DeFelice was my line coach,” he continued. “They were phenomenal. Dick Lynch was my basketball coach, too, and he was a mastermind technician, calling the offenses and defenses. Frank was young and he taught me skills that, even after I went through college, he was the best line coach I had. The three of them made me fall in love with sports and made me want to be a teacher-coach.”
Photo: Owen O’Rourke
Jane Heil didn’t have a choice: She was born into basketball.
The former Peabody High School girls basketball coach served two terms on the bench, covering 33 years at the helm of the Lady Tanners, retiring for the final time after the 2014 season.
She parlayed those seasons into 528 coaching victories, 17 Greater Boston League championships and one Northeastern Conference title, 27 tournament qualifications, three Div. 1 sectional finalist teams and, in 1985, an Eastern Mass. and state Div.1 championship team.
In 2013, she was inducted into the Mass. Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
For Heil, the daughter of former Medford High School basketball coach Leo Appiani, it became the sixth Hall of Fame into which she has been inducted. Previously, she had been honored by her alma mater, Bridgewater State University, Converse North Shore Basketball Coaches Association, New Agenda: Northeast, New England Basketball and Peabody High School.
“My dad was a pretty successful basketball coach for several years at Medford,” Heil said. “That’s where I first developed my love for the game. There were no girls sports in high school so I played at Bridgewater State.”
Her 33-year tenure on the sidelines was split into two parts. The first was 18 years and she retired for the first time in 1995.
“It was the way circumstances fell,” Heil explained. “I took time off to watch my daughter Kristin play at Beverly High School. She went to Trinity College and I went to see her play there, but she blew her knee out at the end of her freshman year.
“I was refereeing basketball and was able to do freshmen and junior varsity games and get back in time to see my daughter play,” she said.
After being out of coaching for four years, and with Kristin no longer playing, the Peabody girls basketball coaching position proved too much of a magnetic draw to avoid. Shortly before the deadline, she applied to return.
“I intended to go back for two years and already had two people picked out to replace me,” Heil admitted. “And, then they both got married and left the school system. My husband, Bob, is quite good as an Xs and Os man and he was my assistant.”
“The second time around (15 years, 1999-2014) was different than the first time,” she added. “It was a lot of fun. I coached as long as I wanted and left when I was ready to leave with these wonderful memories.”
During her time at Bridgewater State, the game of basketball was 9-on-9, she recalled. Then, it went to 6-on-6 with two defensive players prohibited from crossing midcourt on each team. By the time she was ready to coach, the girls’ game had evolved into what the boys’ game was.
“I started (teaching) in Peabody in 1969 and it was in the fall of the 1977- 78 season that the position became open and it turned out great,” she said. “Definitely, my love of basketball began more by the fact that my father had been a coach and, if I was going to coach something, I was going to jump into basketball.”
Her biggest challenge, however, wasn’t on the basketball court. In 2003, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and, before that season began, she had undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She never missed a practice or a game and even recorded her 400th coaching victory on Feb.
her survival to “family, friends and the 2003-2004 Peabody High girls basketball team.”
HER COACHING WASN’T LIMITED TO PEABODY HIGH
“I actually coached the Beverly High School boys team in the summer of the year my son, Bobby, was between his junior and senior years,” Heil said. “The high school coach couldn’t coach his own players (out of season) and asked me to coach the summer league team in 2005. When Bobby graduated, the coach asked me to stay on and I did.
For three more years, I coached the boys in the summer and it was a great experience. It was different, but I enjoyed it.”
After her retirement from her physical education teaching position in 2005 and coaching in 2014, Jane Heil hasn’t sat around doing nothing. She still is active refereeing basketball games in the men’s and children’s leagues at the Beverly and Ipswich YMCAs as well as doing AAU tournament games.
“I’m a pretty good tennis player, too,” she said. “Since college, I competed in the nationals twice at the USTA 35 level and the seniors (over 60). There’s a team of us, the Bass River Tennis Team, that placed fourth nationally in the USTA Women’s Doubles 7.0 at the Super Senior National Championship in 2010 in Surprise, Ariz.” Heil reflected on her induction into the state coaches’ Hall of Fame.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is like having your number retired, but since I never had the opportunity to have a number, it’s pretty big to go into the Hall of Fame,” she said. “It’s always nice to be recognized for the things you did. This is not a personal award, but it goes to everybody who has been a part of the program. I’ve had great assistants and talented kids. It’s a great honor, but an honor that needs to be shared.”
Photo: Paula Muller