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Willie Beamon, longtime Missoula football coach, dies at age 64

MISSOULA, MONTANA — Willie Beamon, a famous Missoula football coach who directed the now-defunct Phoenix semi-pro team for many years, died on Friday.

He was 64 years old at the time.

Beamon, who also worked as an assistant coach for Missoula Hellgate for many years, was an all-American linebacker for Boise State in high school and college. Before joining the Broncos, the southern California native was a member of the UCLA team that defeated Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 23-10.

“He had the biggest personality of probably any coach I’ve ever coached with,” said Joe Slemberger, a longtime Hellgate assistant. “He was one of the most encouraging coaches I’d ever met to his players. I was always there for them.

“He was calling and checking in on players he coached until the day he died. He had a big belly laugh and a contagious personality.”

In 1979, the New York Jets drafted Beamon. The defensive stalwart spent a year in the pros before his back gave out, and he was forced to return to California. In 2007, he and his wife relocated to Missoula to be closer to their son.

In 2008, Beamon took over as coach of the Missoula Phoenix.

“We were looking for a head coach, and I called him, and right away we knew he was the man for the job,” Phoenix co-owner Dr. Michael Johnson said back in 2009. “We knew the fans would adore him because he has a great laugh and is excellent with the media. Not to mention the Rose Bowl ring he wears and the fact that he played in the most prestigious league in the world. He understands football.

“He’s been fantastic. The guys adore him, “Johnson continued. “They regard him as a father figure, and they play so hard for him because they don’t want to disappoint him. We couldn’t expect any more from Willie.”

Beamon had a natural talent for coaching. He led the Phoenix to the Rocky Mountain Football League playoffs in his first season with the team and was named RMFL Coach of the Year.

Beamon yearned to play again despite his responsibilities as a Phoenix coach, even in his fifties.

“Oh, believe me, it runs through the mind,” he joked in 2008 to the Missoulian. “However, the body says no. I wish I could fasten them.”