Newport’s Thurlow Has Spent a Long Time on the Line

  • Newport, N.H., football line coach Bill Thurlow, second from right, speaks with the team during a timeout in the game with Kearsarge in Newport on Sept. 3, 2016. Thurlow has been an assistant coach at the school since 1965. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As an assistant coach for the Newport, N.H., football team since 1965, Bill Thurlow has worked with nine head coaches and has been part of 13 teams that have played in the state championship, winning nine of those games. Thurlow watches game film with the team on Oct. 23, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Newport football line coach Bill Thurlow talks with the team, including seniors John Gervais, right, and David Stark, as they review game film on Oct. 23, 2017, in Newport, N.H., from their 37-16 loss to Monadnock. In his 52 years as an assistant coach at Newport, Thurlow coached tight ends the first year and has been line coach ever since. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Newport — Bill Thurlow has been the line coach with the Newport High School football team for 52 years. You would think that, during that lengthy span, he would have seen and done everything connected with the sport.

Well, he hasn’t.

When you picture a football coach on the sidelines, the image is usually one of anxiety, despair, maybe yelling at an official or to get a player’s attention. Not Thurlow. In all those five decades-plus years of coaching hundreds of games and thousands of days at practice, the 74-year-old Thurlow has never raised his voice at a player or referee.

“I teach and coach in a humanistic way, and I never yell at them in either place,” said Thurlow. “I know the players and students are going to make mistakes, but I correct them in way that does not affect their pride in what they are doing.”

It all began in 1965 when the Massachusetts native, master’s degree in history from American International College in hand, was hired to teach in Newport. Calista Teague was in that class; she’s now Mrs. William Thurlow.

That same year, Thurlow signed on as an assistant football coach under Jim Edgerly, the first of nine football coaches for whom Thurlow would work. Bob Underhill followed Edgerly, then came Dennis Hoffman, Jules Martin, Jack Bourgoine, Jim Sullivan, Larry Carle, Larry McElreavy and the current head coach, Rich Boone.

“I learned something from each of them and enjoyed coaching with them,” said Thurlow. “All of them, in one way or another, were great guys which I had personal relationships with.”

He’s also enjoyed success. A lot of it. Newport teams with Thurlow on the staff have gone to 13 championship games and won nine of them.

Still, whatever he does on the field comes from his love of teaching, for which was recognized in 1989 when he was named the New Hampshire social studies teacher of the year. He has picked up a couple of football awards along the way as well, having joined the New Hampshire Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and having won the Walter Smith Award for his contribution to New Hampshire high school athletics.

Some of Thurlow’s past head coaches summed up his abilities in similar fashion.

“With Bill, there was never a need for me to worry about the line,” said Underhill, who along with Thurlow coached in two Shrine Maple Sugar Bowls. “He was a big part of our program and great with the kids. His eyes could be popping out his head, and he would never yell. He was terrific. ”

Thurlow looks at the football field as another classroom.

“My personal style has not changed,” he said. “Teaching is my first love.”

Thurlow’s coaching techniques are unique and successful. “I’d like to have six of him on my staff,” said McElreavy, who now coaches at Pembroke Academy.

Carle feels the same way.

“You know, I always tried to emulate him because, as a human being, he is a gem and, as coach, the first thing I noticed about him were his eyes,” Carle said. “He would look at a player and make a connection. He could learn more with his eyes than any coach I know. He’s at the top of the list as a man and, as a coach, and I really don’t know how he could not yell. Goodness knows I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I yelled enough for the both of us.”

Thurlow is also a coach who never signals or calls defensive formations, feeling these are decisions the linemen should make.

“On every play, our guards are making calls on what they see in front of them,” Thurlow noted.

As to why so many blockers are are in front of the ballcarrier, Thurlow said that is the result of letting his players freelance.

“They all know where the play is going,” he said.

While the memories are many, Thurlow points to a 1971 game between Newport and Littleton as his list-topper. The two undefeated teams were playing for first place, and Newport won.

“It was a low-scoring game,” he recalled, “and we had to be escorted by the police out of town.”

Also, like all coaches who have been around for a while, Thurlow misses the long-defunct Connecticut Valley League and all those games against teams from around the Upper Valley.

“Football is part of the culture in Newport and embraced by the people who do not get enough credit for what they do for football,” he said. “During those CVL games, the crowds were huge and the play competitive. That’s why I’ve missed the CVL.”

Games with NHIAA Division III rival Franklin also have left a lasting memory.

“They are a community like us, and those games were always a real fight,” he said. “It was the same style of play in the same kind of atmosphere.”

Boone, the current Newport coach, considers himself very fortunate to have Thurlow around.

“He is so smooth, and the kids know his legacy,” said Boone. “When he speaks, he always has a captive audience. He is so compassionate, and I enjoy the heck out of working with him. He has tremendous knowledge of the game and so willing to share it.”

Newport athletic director Jeff Miller said that when he is hiring a football coach, the first thing he tells the candidates is “you do not even think about a line coach. You have Mr. Thurlow, who can make contributing linemen out of mediocre ones. If they ever build another statue in this town it should be of Mr. Thurlow.”

Both Bill and Calista Thurlow are now retired after long careers as Newport Middle High School teachers, although both fill in as substitute teachers when needed. When not at school they can be found most days at the Newport Golf Club.

Thurlow’s humanistic approach doesn’t change there, either, even if he has to verbally warn the foursome on an adjacent fairway of a duck-hooked drive headed their way.

“We don’t keep score,” he said, “but if we did, I would lose most of the time.”