In tandem with Bowdoin football’s thousandth game, the position of Bowdoin head coach of football was endowed last week by John Fish ’82, chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction and Bowdoin football alum.
Fish’s decision to make a financial commitment to the College and its football program was motivated not only by an appreciation for his own Bowdoin experience but also a desire to improve the program in the years to come.
“Bowdoin symbolizes academic success, academic superiority, academic curiosity. I don’t think the Bowdoin football program has truly reflected those values over the years,” he said.
From 1978 to 1980, Fish was an offensive tackle and two-time Colby-Bowdoin-Bates (CBB) champion. He was unable to play his senior year due to injury but cites the experience as instrumental to his professional success.
“I was told I wouldn’t be able to play anymore. It was one of those revelations that caused me to realize that I was no longer going to be defined as an athlete,” he said. “I needed to be defined as a person [with] a very strong education that allowed me to pursue my dreams in a different category, and that is business.”
At Bowdoin, Fish was equally as empowered by his academic growth as he was by his success on the football field and sees the values of both as closely linked.
“I have a learning difference. I’m a severe dyslexic. Having the opportunity to attend Bowdoin was a real honor and a privilege, and I felt that I took advantage of it. The small classrooms and the commitment of the faculty … gave me the confidence to be able to learn to read and write at a level that I never thought that I could,” he said. “Bowdoin provided me with the foundation to believe in myself, to believe in my future and believe in an environment that could do this for other people. And my goal in life now is not about myself, but how do I demonstrate a commitment to the next generation?”
Fish emphasized reintegrating the core values of a Bowdoin education into the football program, which he believes has dropped its standards in recent years. During the 2021 season, the football team had a 1-8 record. The team had not won a game since 2018. Last season, the team finished 3–6.
“Once you get into that doom loop of acceptance, of being average, that mediocrity penetrates not just on the athletic field—it penetrates in your world, in your culture, in how you view things. I’m not looking at Bowdoin to win the NESCAC every year—that’s not the case,” he said. “But if we are superior in academics, and we have high standards, I’m hoping that we can establish a higher bar for the role Bowdoin football plays going forward.”
Fish believes that success in any aspect of life depends on mentality, a value reflected in his vision for the future of Bowdoin football.
“I believe whether it be sports or academics, if we’re going to play, can we play to win? I don’t think Bowdoin College, with respect to football, has played to win over the last 20 years. And that really impacts the culture in a locker room if people look at a 4–4 season as success, which we’ve done at Bowdoin,” he said. “To me, it sends the wrong signal for how to define success in life. If you’re used to defining success by having a 4–4 season, that calibrates you to define success in life as being 50–50.”
B. J. Hammer will be the first person to hold the title of Fish Family Head Coach of Football.
“It’s a great honor, and I think what it shows is a commitment made to our players and team and growing our football program,” Hammer said. “I think it’s great to see someone like John Fish wants to give back and contribute, and that’s what Bowdoin is all about.”
The Fish Family Head Coach of Football is the third head coach endowment at Bowdoin, now standing alongside the Morse Family Baseball Coach and the Sidney J. Watson Head Coach for Ice Hockey. Tim Ryan, Ashmead White Director of Athletics, added that Bowdoin’s three endowed head coach positions are unique for a Division III school.
“The commitment shown by our alumni who have named head coaching positions is incredibly exciting for our coaching staff and for our department,” Ryan said. “It’s a great signal to current students and future students of the support that is available at Bowdoin for members of our teams.”
In the coming years, Hammer hopes to fulfill the vision Fish and many other Bowdoin alumni share for the football program.
“Bowdoin has not won a lot of football over the years. Our goal is to become very competitive and start winning a lot of football games, and we’re going down that path now,” Hammer said. “For Bowdoin to flip the switch and become a winning program—that’s our goal.”