Exeter/West Greenwich coach Mike Messier dies in crash
01:00 AM EST on Saturday, February 27, 2010
By JOHN GILLOOLY
Journal Sports Writer
Mike Messier, head football and softball coach at Exeter-West Greenwich High School, died in a one-car accident on Mishnock Road in West Greenwich late Thursday evening. His truck crossed the center lane and struck a tree during heavy rain as he was headed home.
The Providence Journal / Bob Breidenbach
Mike Messier may not have been the most vocal high school football coach in Rhode Island, and he may not have had a four-star coaching resumé when he first became the Exeter-West Greenwich head football coach five years ago. But as I watched him coach the Scarlet Knights over the past few years it seemed he was the type of man you would want your son to be associated with.
In the grand scheme of life, that’s the ultimate tribute I could pay a high school coach.
“If you wanted your kid to learn about heart and determination, Mike was the guy,” said Jim Alves, Exeter-West Greenwich assistant principal and assistant football coach.
All of which makes Messier’s death in an auto accident Thursday night so tragic. The 55-year-old coach died instantly when his westbound car crossed the center lane on an unlit portion of Mishnock Hill Road in West Greenwich in heavy rain, left the road and struck some trees. It did not appear he was wearing a seat belt.
Messier was an electrician for the West Warwick school system, where, on Thursday, he had been working late. But he loved living and working with the people in the community of the Exeter-West Greenwich school district.
In addition to being the Scarlet Knights head football coach for the past five years, he also had been an assistant coach for several years before that. That means he had been associated with the Exeter-West Greenwich football program for about three-quarters of its 15-year existence in Rhode Island Interscholastic League competition.
He also had been the Scarlet Knights girls softball coach for well over a decade.
“I don’t think Mike had an article of clothing that didn’t have some type of Exeter-West Greenwich logo on it,” Alves continued. “He loved the school, and he loved working for and with the people in this community, especially the students.”
Exeter-West Greenwich is one of the newest public high schools in the state. It’s also a comparatively small high school from a school district that is a somewhat strange blend of an old-time farming community and modern, up-scale residential development.
All of which can make building a sports tradition a challenge, but that never bothered Messier. He did all the things necessary, whether it was leading a fundraising project to manually working on the condition of a playing field. It was all so Exeter-West Greenwich student/athletes would know their community cared about them.
“Mike would do whatever was necessary so the kids could play,” said Alves. “He never told a kid he or she couldn’t play. When we ran out of helmets one time, he went to another school and got a helmet so a kid could play. If we needed more uniforms, somehow he raised the money for them.”
And while he might not have had an extensive coaching pedigree when he first became head football coach, he knew how to put together a good coaching staff. He added Alves and his brother Steve Alves, both who had head coaching experience at other schools. In 2007, Exeter-West Greenwich earned the school’s first football Super Bowl berth, and the following year, the Scarlet Knights won their first football state championship with a victory in the Division IV Super Bowl.
Several members of that 2008 state championship team graduated the following spring, so nobody was really surprised when the Scarlet Knights only posted a 5-3 record during the regular season last fall.
I remember talking to Messier early in the season and he told how he was a little disappointed that after the championship season in 2008, they didn’t have more new players come out for the team. The 2009 roster actually had fewer players than the 2008 team.
“But we have a great group of great kids. We will be OK,” Messier said that day.
Indeed they were. After finishing fourth during the regular season, the Scarlet Knights came back and won another Division IV state title with two straight victories in the playoffs. They won the championship with a 14-point victory in the Super Bowl over a team that had defeated them by 27 points during the regular season.
“Last year was nice because that was our first one, but we were in first place most of the year, so we kind of expected to win. This one here, we came out of the ashes like the phoenix,” said a delighted Messier that night back in early December when the Scarlet Knights won the title.
It’s probably not surprising Messier’s work for his players didn’t stop with the final buzzer at the Super Bowl.
“He has been putting together the fundraisers so the players can have rings and other things to remember the championship,” said Alves. “He was always working for the kids. He was here the other day already working on the softball field. He was really looking forward to this year’s softball season.”
A school and a community have lost a special person.