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Peter Stuursma has sites set on winning, not excuses, at Hope College

By: Steve Vedder, August 3, 2016, 9:04 pm

(Photo Courtesy: Hope College)


Holland – Peter Stuursma was headed from his middle school office to the gymnasium to watch a number of youngsters play basketball when he received the life-changing phone call.

Stuursma hadn’t been looking for change and was, in fact, quite content with his role as middle school principal and East Grand Rapids football coach. The last thing on Stuursma’s mind was a job change. But when Hope College administrators inquired if he was interested in the head football coaching position at that school his first inclination was to listen.

Stuursma, a former co-captain and defensive coordinator at Hope, wasn’t seeking a new challenge but he was intrigued. He discussed the offer with his family and decided to commence the job hiring process which would leave him as just the seventh Flying Dutchmen football coach since 1920.

Stuursma, 45, said that if the offer had come from anywhere but Hope, he would still be at East Grand Rapids this fall, beginning his 17th season and trying to improve on a remarkable 162-34 record, 13 playoff appearances and seven state titles including five in a row from 2006-10.

"It just kind of happened," said Stuursma on a recent sunny morning from his office inside Hope College’s DeVos Center. "I’ve always said East Grand Rapids gave us more than we gave it. This was a hard decision, but sometimes things happen for a reason."

Stuursma’s decision to leave a program which had won 83 per cent of its games under him wasn’t easy. But what comes next could be even tougher. Still, upon reflection, Stuursma believes that the same attributes which made him one of the winningest coaches in Grand Rapids area history, the ability to handle hefty expectations at East and his coaching background at the college level should be enough to spell success at Hope, a program which has had just three winning seasons since 2008.

In fact, you can make the case that Stuursma has been down this road before.

"I will always be who I am," he said. "One thing about me, though, is that I can’t stand looking back and wondering. They offered me this and I have nothing to lose."

While some may wonder how difficult it will be for Stuursma to make the transition from high school to college, he isn’t concerned. For starters, he realizes that success at the college level begins with recruiting, one of his chief responsibilities during his time as an assistant at Hope. Tied to recruiting is recognizing that the type of player which was successful at the high school level will be different than what is needed from a college football player. Stuursma said the latter players need to be capable of playing an up-tempo pace and be more versatile than high school counterparts.

As for the Xs and Os of high school football, in comparison with that at the collegiate level, Stuursma said the same systems which work for successful high school coaches will translate nicely to the next level. The same offensive and defensive schemes used by high school coaches will work in college, Stuursma said. Provided, of course, that the recruiting of quicker and more athletic players is successful.

The only problem Stuursma sees with quickly attaining either is self-inflicted. Whether he’s standing in line at the supermarket or bank, Stuursma said he has no patience. He looks at that as time lost which will never be regained. The same is true for coaching. Stuursma said he has no patience for the lack of moving forward.

"I have the patience of a gnat," he said. "I want things to happen now."

Stuursma said one of the benefits he has in making the transition from high school to college is that he already has experience in handling expectations. He’s done that by following legendary East Grand Rapids coach George Barcheski, winner of 238 games as Pioneers coach, without missing a beat. At both places, Stuursma said he intends to set high goals and work toward owning them.

"The pressure which is placed on me will not exceed the pressure I place on myself," he said. "There is no more pressure (at Hope), there are just more people watching at a higher level. What I want is the same thing we had at East. We want to create competition and we want to win MIAA titles and a national title. We have the resources here to do that."

Another common trait between high school and college is improvement. Stuursma said he always told his players that improving at least one percent each day should be their No. 1 goal. The same will be true at Hope.

"You have to improve," he said. "More than one percent would be good, but you are always working to improve."

Stuursma doesn’t offer much on any previous job opportunities to leave East Grand Rapids. What he will talk about is looking forward to returning to the college game, meeting new challenges and working with a Hope College community he compares favorably to his experience at East Grand Rapids.

"I left there on wonderful terms," he said. "Coming back to Hope just seemed like the right time because I have nothing to lose. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve said things happen for a reason. Who knows? Maybe if the stars hadn’t been aligned this might not have happened. This just kind of happened."