When he was hired in March, 2011, as Beloit Memorial High School head football coach, Jon Dupuis knew he was accepting a major undertaking.
“I’m passionate about it,” Dupuis said at the time. “I’m home grown. I really believe in these kids and this community. I want to make going to Beloit games something you do on Friday nights again.”
After three seasons and just two victories to go with 25 losses, Dupuis wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.
The high school’s administration, however, did it for him. Dupuis said Monday he learned he was being let go.
“I went in and asked for a three-year commitment and was told they wanted to move in a different direction,” Dupuis said. “I think my staff and I deserved (the three additional years) because of the progress we were making. I was told they want a powerhouse and I told them you’re not going to turn this into a powerhouse in three years. I don’t know how you could do that.
“When I originally interviewed for this job I wanted five years to turn it around and they gave me three. I don’t know much more of what we could have done.”
The Purple Knights finished 2013 with a 1-8 record, their only victory over Madison East. That was the same team they defeated last season, 38-30, to snap a 29-game losing streak.
“There are a lot of underlying issues that need to be resolved here,” Dupuis said. “There are issues people don’t want to talk about. Until they start talking, things aren’t going to change.”
Dupuis didn’t go into many specifics, but mentioned he started the season with four ineligible players and by the fifth week there were 69 players academically ineligible in the program, freshmen through seniors.
“Grades were a huge issue,” Dupuis said.
BMHS Athletic Director Chuck Seils said the administration decided it was the right time to make a change.
“We all like Jon personally,” Seils said. “He has qualities as a coach that we admire. We just don’t feel he’s the one to get us over the hump. So we’re changing directions and finding someone else. I won’t go into specifics, but now is the time to make a change.”
Seils said a search will begin immediately to find a new coach.
“We want someone in here sooner than later,” Seils said. “The posting process will begin and we will start shaking trees trying to find someone we feel confident in to turn around the program. Hopefully we will find someone with a proven record of reviving a program. It’s not just about X’s and O’s. It goes much deeper than that.”
Seils said a committee will be chosen to help select the new coach.
“We will be looking for input,” he said. “This won’t be one man’s decision. In other sports, it’s easier to make that call. Whomever is the next head coach has a huge undertaking. There’s no doubt about that.”
Seils said he planned on speaking with the current assistant coaches because the program will need a care-taker until the new coach is named.
“We need to keep things moving,” he said. “One of the biggest undertakings is our off-season conditioning and strength program. One of our major areas of weakness is our getting bigger, faster and stronger through the year. You look at programs in our league that our successful and we don’t compare. That is one of the areas we must improve our commitment.”
School Superintendent Steve McNeal said he, Seils and Principal Tom Johnson had discussed the situation.
“I support the decision 100 percent,” McNeal said. “Certainly Jon is a good person and we know he has a great love for football. Right now, for us to turn the program around, we feel we need to go in a different direction.”
Dupuis replaced Joe Oberneder, whose last team went 0-9 in 2010. Dupuis, who coached the sophomores in 2010, was recommended for the job by then-Athletic Director Steve Ferger after a search that included 60 applicants.
Well-known in the area, Dupuis was a 1998 BMHS graduate who had rushed for 1,373 yards and scored 17 touchdowns for the 1997 Knights who were 11-2 and reached the WIAA semifinals. He went to play four seasons at Beloit College.
The Knights had two more solid seasons, going 10-2 in 1998 and 8-5 in 1999 when they started 2-4, but made the playoffs at 5-4 and won three straight postseason games before losing in a state semifinal to Homestead.
Since 1999 it’s been a struggle.
Ferger said the fact Dupuis had been a major part of a winning tradition at Beloit went a long way toward hiring him to change the losing stigma that dogged the team.
But like Vern Schaefer, Ed Gavigan and Oberneder before him, the task proved monumental. Schaefer was 2-16 in two seasons. Gavigan went 1-26 over the next three. Oberneder’s teams won four games in four seasons.
Beloit hasn’t come close to the playoffs or even a winning season since Mark Anderson coached the Knights in 1999.
Dupuis wasn’t afraid to make changes. He scrapped the Wing-T offense and went to a spread featuring more passing. He hoped it would take some of the pressure off an offensive line that generally seemed outmanned in the Big Eight and also be of broader appeal to the athletes who were forgoing football.
“I felt we had improved in a lot of areas,” Dupuis said. “We broke the turnover record on defense. Up until the past few games with all the ineligible players we had one of the top passers in the state. I think we put kids in the right position and we got the community more involved.”
Dupuis said he was also actively involved in fund-raising for the program and that “whomever they lure here next to coach will have everything they need equipment-wise.”
“There’s no doubt coach Dupuis was a fantastic fundraiser,” Seils said. “He raised thousands and thousands of dollars. The program is much better off in terms of equipment. Absolutely.”
Dupuis isn’t sure what he will do next, but he wants to continue to coach.
“Hopefully, something will be out there,” he said. “I want to take a couple of weeks with the family and go from there. I grew up in Beloit and I don’t necessarily want to leave Beloit. I’m just not feeling good right now.”