By Dan Plouffe, published September 2008 in Orleans Star
Orleans resident Marcel Bellefeuille fulfilled a dream recently when he was named interim head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the organization disposed of Charlie Taaffe and handed the reigns to the team’s offensive coordinator.
“This is probably not the exact way I would have liked to see it happen, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Bellefeuille, whose team lost its first two games 38-33, 25-23 with him at the helm and now has a record of 2-10.
Inheriting a losing team mid-season when a close companion was fired wasn’t how Bellefeuille envisioned his first Canadian Football League head coaching job, but the title is something he’s been after since he left the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Bellefeuille, who grew up in Ottawa’s south end, and his wife, Julie, left their Gatineau home for Regina in 2001, along with their two daughters, Ymilie, now 16, and Alexandra, 14. By the time the Bellefeuilles moved on to Montreal and the Alouettes five years later, their family had grown by two to include Mathïas, now 6, and Cédrik, 4.
When Bellefeuille began his job with Hamilton this year, the family chose to settle in Avalon so that their kids could attend French-language schools and they’d be close to their grandparents, family and friends.
“It was hard to leave in the first place,” Bellefeuille says. “It wasn’t difficult in terms of going to the CFL and having a new experience and new challenge, but it was really just leaving our family and a city behind that we loved so much.
“So now, we just did what we thought was best for family and that was to lay our roots and commute between Ottawa and Hamilton.”
Julie and the kids have made it to Hamilton for every home game this season. The usual schedule calls for them to leave Ottawa Thursday afternoon and spend the weekend in or around Hamilton — trips to Marineland, African Lion Safari and Wonderland have been a special treat for the kids who spend most of the car ride doing for homework for the Friday they miss school.
“School is very important, but the fact that Marcel is still their dad is number one,” Julie Bellefeuille explains. “We do it so that he can see them and they can see him. It’s very important that they know that, yeah, this is dad’s job, but dad still cares and he misses you guys.”
The current arrangement hasn’t been easy for the family, but they’ve made it work as best they can.
“This year’s different in a way,” says Ymilie, who would like to study medicine at Ottawa U when she finishes high school at Béatrice-Desloges in two years. “He’s not here to have dinner with us, he can’t drive us to our after-school activities, but at the same time, we’re a bit used to it because before, we’d wake up and he’d be gone.”
On Sept. 9, the clan couldn’t have been more excited when they gathered around the computer after school to watch the news of Marcel’s new appointment unfold.
“I came home from school and my mom’s like, ‘come see this Alex!’ and I went to see it and I was freaking out!” Alexandra says. “I don’t really see the difference between head coaching and coaching job because we still don’t see him. We can’t really tell, but he looks happy, and that’s what counts.”
Marcel didn’t have a chance to talk to his family until later in the day because everything happened so quickly the day he was hired and he bounced from one meeting to the next. He says he’s focused on helping the Ticats as best he can for the remaining six weeks and hopes to make the playoffs, but part of him is always thinking of his family in Orleans.
“I really just enjoy the day-to-day operations at home — that’s what I miss the most,” the 41-year-old says. “We’ll go on vacation and do those things, but what I really enjoy is just going to the bus stop with my boys and I like being there when they get home from school and just doing homework or reading with the kids, playing a game of cards with the girls at night, just asking them how their day was or help them with homework.
“Those things at home are dear to me and I miss them at other times of the year.”
Pro football coach lifestyle has perks & hardships for family
When watching professional football on TV, it might not be evident the amount of work that goes into preparation for the game. But for anyone who’s been involved with a high-level football team, they understand that it can mean long days and nights for the football staff.
It can be quite a challenge to have a family life on top of that, and no one knows that better than Marcel Bellefeuille, who was recently named the interim head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Marcel’s wife, Julie, and four kids — Ymilie, 16, Alexandra, 14, Mathïas, 6, and Cédrik, 4 — currently live in Orléans while he works practically around the clock for the Canadian Football League team six hours down the road.
Despite the added challenge posed by this season — the Bellefeuilles all lived together for the previous eight years when Marcel worked in Saskatchewan and Montreal — the Ottawa native says his family manages to cope pretty well nonetheless.
“During the season, I’m rarely around, so they’ve sort of got used to that lifestyle,” Marcel says. “We’re a very close-knit family. And the nice thing about it is because of the CFL we’ve been able to expose our kids to a lot of different things. They’ve come on road trips and seen a lot of Canada, and they’ve been able to live in different places and see what the culture is.”
One particularly special experience came recently during the Ticats’ bye week when the entire family helped out at a football camp held at a native reserve in northern Quebec, Oujé-bougoumou.
“I really liked it,” says Alexandra, who hopes to travel to different reserves for a month and a half next summer with the same program.
Alexandra adds that it was “eye-opening” for her to see what life was like there, especially at night time when kids would be playing sports and their parents wouldn’t be around to watch.
“It was a really good experience though,” Alexandra says. “Helping kids and telling them, ‘anything’s possible. You can fulfill your dreams if you just believe in it’.”
Another very positive aspect of Marcel working in the CFL for his family is that what others might only dream of is normal for his family.
“Mathïas would be at Taylor Field, he’d walk into the GM’s office and grab a drink out of the fridge, all the coaches would give him candy, and he’d be hanging around with the players. And it was no big deal — just another day in our lives,” Marcel explains, adding that he receives a lot of support from his family, who have been to every Hamilton home game this year.
“The funny thing is you can come home after a big win or a big loss and my boys just want to jump on me and play. They don’t know; they don’t care. They’ll ask me, ‘did you win?’ and whether it’s yes or no, that doesn’t change their attitude. I’m just ‘Dad’.”
But with the good also comes the bad. With Marcel on the road and working so many hours for eight months of the year, there are times that have been more challenging.
Julie left messages for Marcel to let him know when she was pregnant with Mathïas as well as Cédrik, who then didn’t pick the most convenient time to be born.
“When I had Cédrik, they were going to the west final and Marcel (then working as Saskatchewan’s offensive coordinator) had just come back from Winnipeg when my water broke,” Julie says. “We had the baby at two in the morning and at five, he was back in the office. He was on the computer preparing for the game while I was having the baby. Those are things that you have to be able to live with.”
Julie says being a pro football family might not be “as glamorous as it sounds or seems,” but in the end, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“I always say, ‘you get used to it’, but you don’t really,” she says. “The bottom line is he’s not there. You talk over the phone and you manage. You create your own coping mechanisms that allow you to be able to function.
“My thing is that I get a passion when I see him doing his passion. That keeps me going. I keep on telling him, ‘if you wouldn’t be doing football, you wouldn’t be the same person.’ It’s his passion — he loves it, he talks it, he eats it. It’s just football — that’s what he loves to do.
“Yes, it’s sacrifices on our part, but there are also many rewards. The rewards are all the travelling that we’ve done, the people that we’ve met, the places we’ve been — the culture around football is huge.
“People say, ‘well, football’s a sport’, but it’s a huge family — it’s more than that.”