The Stingers won four Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championships with Beemer as head coach.
The Concordia Stingers men’s rugby team will start its next Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) season with a new head coach. The Concordia Stingers announced last month that Craig Beemer has stepped down from his head coaching duties for personal reasons.
The Stingers have been one of the most dominant Canadian university rugby teams in recent years. The team won four of the last six RSEQ championships, and participated to the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championship (CUMRC) the past three seasons. Beemer was a member of the coaching staff for all those RSEQ championships and CUMRC participations.
Beemer started coaching rugby when he joined McGill University men’s rugby team as an assistant coach. He was asked by the team’s head coach to join the program after he graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Education in 2005.
After eight championship seasons with McGill, Beemer stepped away from his coaching job with McGill in 2013, as he went to China that year. When he came back to Montreal, McGill had won the championship again. However, Beemer wanted to go back to coaching, and decided to post online to indicate his interest. Beemer was then approached by Clive Gibson, the Stingers head coach at the time, and took over leadership of the team for the 2014-15 season.
“It was definitely a defining year,” Beemer said. “I was working at Loyola High School as a teacher [at the time]. I ended up coming out and helping out and coaching because I love to coach. It just happened to be the rivals [of the team I coached before]. It was very awkward to be honest. I was wearing Loyola High School gear the first game of the season, and the first game of the season was against McGill.”
Despite winning the RSEQ championship in his first season with his new team in 2014-15, Beemer said that year was a tough transition for him.
“It was pretty defining for me because all my success has been at one university [McGill],” Beemer said. “To change university [was significant]. I was fortunate that I had to take over as head coach.”
The next season was more challenging for Beemer and the Stingers. In 2015-16, Gibson made a comeback as head coach, and Beemer was back to being an assistant coach. The team finished the season with a 4-3 record, but lost their RSEQ quarter final game 19-18 against the École de Technologie Supérieure (ÉTS) Piranhas.
“As an assistant coach, you’re not leading the ship,” Beemer said. “It was sometimes frustrating, but I was just doing the best as I could to help. 2015-16 was very difficult.”
Shortly before the 2016-17 season, Gibson retired. The Concordia Stingers Department of Recreation and Athletics announced a month later, which was also a month before the start of the season, that Beemer would take take over as new head coach.
Despite having been around since 2014 and having coached the Stingers that year during Gibson’s absence, 2016-17 had been more difficult for Beemer and his players. The team finished the season 1-6, and lost their RSEQ quarterfinal game 33-26 in overtime against the Bishop’s University Gaiters.
“We didn’t have as much talent [as the previous two seasons] in 2016-17,” Beemer said. “Progressing players went down with injuries in training camp before the season. It was a learning experience for every single person involved in the program. It was my first losing season ever.”
Beemer said despite being an incredibly tough season, it definitely helped him grow as a coach.
“Of all 12 seasons I coached [as head coach], it’s probably the one I’ve learned the most,” Beemer said. “I’m first to admit that you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.”
The next three seasons were all but similar to 2016-17 for the Stingers. Since that difficult year, the team hasn’t lost a single game in the RSEQ. However, it didn’t happen just by luck. Beemer said it was a very positive off-season in 2017.
“I think the biggest thing I overcame is the standards, [in the sense of] where my standards were and where those of the program were,” Beemer said. “It was difficult to bridge the gap. There were a lot of hard conversations, a lot of reflection on my part, concerning what I needed to do differently to bring in a different culture and things like that.”
Beemer explained that the change of culture was a big step forward at that time for the team. He said that people’s expectations might concern wins and losses, but as a team, when you’re with people you know almost every day, there are other expectations you need to have before you even get to play a game.
“The culture really had to take a shift,” Beemer said. “I think the easiest thing I used to tell the guys was ‘six on 10 is acceptable in other aspects of your life, but it’s not here. We’re looking to strive for perfection, and obviously that’s not something we’ll always obtain. We can start to be happy with eight or nine on 10. I wanted to figure out a way to install that culture that would be embraced by the players.”
Not only were the Stingers starting 2017-18 with a new culture, but they were also seeing many key players injured in 2016-17 return to the lineup. Beemer said the Stingers simply were a more talented team coming into the new season.
“Our players were much better,” Beemer said. “I had good coaches [with me]. We went to work in the off-season, and got a really great recruiting class in. The standards may not have been nine on 10, but they no longer were six on 10. The players really started to take ownership over the program. I wasn’t the only one leading at that point. They didn’t want to have a repeat of 2016-17.”
Beemer admitted that he probably didn’t expect his team to go undefeated three years ago. However, he said that he’s always been a fairly confident person who always trusted his abilities as a coach.
“I believe that if you put in the work and time, and that you’re blessed to have the abilities and skills, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be successful,” Beemer said. “Coming into 2017, was the [RSEQ championship] really a realistic goal after a 1-6 season? No, but the confidence and abilities of the staff and players, including the ones coming back from injury and the rookies, were much better. I told the players that the thing that matters is to win your last game.”
The Stingers entered the 2018-19 RSEQ season in the same position as they were in 2015-2016, as they were the league’s defending champions. This time for Beemer and the Stingers, the team succeeded to defend its title with another perfect season. The Stingers went to the CUMRC, held in Victoria, and finished in fourth place.
Beemer said the experience the Stingers acquired at the CUMRC in Guelph in 2017 was probably one of the best things that could have happened to them. He explained that it gave his players even more desire to work hard in the off-season in order to be better.
“As much as we had an amazing season in Quebec [in 2017-18], the national championship wasn’t great for us,” Beemer said. “We didn’t want to go back to the CUMRC and not perform. In 2018-19, there wasn’t really the pressure of the RSEQ, but there was the pressure of going to the CUMRC and being ready. At that point, it was just our own goals. If you’re already winning and still trying to get better every single week, there’s a good chance you’ll continue winning.”
Finally came this past season, Beemer’s last as head coach. This season was huge for the Stingers, as not only were they the RSEQ defending champions, but had been selected to host the third edition of the CUMRC, which was held this November at Concordia Stadium.
“We really wanted to take advantage of [hosting the CUMRC] and promote rugby in Quebec,” Beemer said. “It was a huge season in the sense that we had two undefeated seasons under our belt, and didn’t want to go down [at that point]. The guys played really well. The standards the players had settled the previous two years really shined through this year.”
Beemer said a thing that helped his rugby program develop in its recent championships is the number of players training and practicing with the team. People always saw the same players on the field for every game, but in reality there were around 60 players training with the Stingers every week.
“Those guys were training with us to make sure we were increasing competition in our own training session, and making it a competitive atmosphere in our program,” Beemer said. “That way, we’re always going to have a good senior and rookie mix. Rookies had to come and fight for their spot. We had a deep program of players that you won’t even see on game-day that were supporting and looking to take a spot the very next year, which is pretty cool.”
After all those years and the success he had with the team, Beemer said it’s hard to name one favourite, or perhaps a highlight moment of his time passed as head coach of the Stingers. However, he said the thing that will stand out the most for him is the change of culture, and change of attitude of the players over the years.
“I got complimented on how respectful our athletes were and about how incredibly clean it was when they left almost everywhere we went,” Beemer said. “I watched the program grow. It turned guys here who just wanted to play rugby into very successful and outstanding young men who can play rugby well.”
Feature photo by Laurence B.D.