NelsonGH

Grand Haven head coach Joe Nelson (in grey) addresses his team following the Buccaneers' victory against West Ottawa in October 2019,

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Grand Haven varsity football head coach Joe Nelson announced Tuesday that he is stepping down after three seasons in charge.

The Buccaneers went 10-19 in three years under Nelson, who was hired in 2017, including a 6-5 season in 2019 that included a first playoff appearance since 2011. Their 28-7 road victory against Grandville was the school's first playoff win since 2010.

"I did a lot of evaluation with all the things in my life, between football, track and the math department. I tried to figure out what was best for me and my kids and the program," Nelson said. He told players and fellow staff about his decision after school ended Tuesday. "It just felt like it was time for me to step away and let someone else continue on and bring it to the next level."

Athletic director Scott Robertson said he's grateful for what Nelson has accomplished while in the role, as well as his presence around the entire athletic department. Nelson also coaches the Buccaneers' track team while chairing the math department at the high school.

"I'm very thankful that he came in and spent the last three years stabilizing the program," Robertson said. "He gave us some continuity and I'm thankful for that."

Robertson said that the job posting for the program's next coach would be posted within the next week. He hadn't talked to any current staff members yet about the role.

"The fortunate thing is that we're finding out about this in January and not May or June," Robertson said. "There's no panic where we have to go out and make a decision in this next week."

Nelson took over following Jason Tester's resignation in 2016, and has seen a jump in participation numbers throughout the program. There were 28 seniors on the 2019 roster as part of a group of 53. Both the junior varsity and freshman teams had around 30 players each.

"I wanted to thank everyone for their work in turning this program around," Nelson said. "It was nice to have success this year. I'm not stepping back because I said 'We made it, now I'm done.' I just feel like it's what we need."

2019's Buccaneers recovered from a 1-4 start to win their final four games of the regular season before beating Grandville in a playoff opener rematch. Their run was capped by a 35-7 loss at Hudsonville a week later.

"We were very successful in what we were doing for kids, and that means a lot to me," Nelson said of taking the role as Buccaneer head coach. "It was a goal of mine and it was something I took a lot of pride in."

Nelson has been around the Grand Haven program for most of his life, graduating in 1989 after getting a start in the game at the age of nine. He had been an assistant for 17 years in two stints with Grand Haven, also serving as an assistant at Hope College for another seven seasons. Many of the coaches on his staff had been with him for most of his career.

"I felt like we did things correctly," Nelson said. "We respected kids and we respected their time. We showed a lot of success with that philosophy and we showed that it can happen if a lot of people work together."

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