Falmouth football coach John Fitzsimmons talks with players a during practice in September 2021. Fitzsimmons is stepping down after being the head coach of the school’ football program for 16 years.

For 38 years, John Fitzsimmons enjoyed coaching football and, despite being 74, was not ready to stop. But when three-quarters of his returning players at Falmouth High signed a petition supporting his ouster, Fitzsimmons said he knew it was time to leave.

“I love coaching football and I really enjoyed being around the players, but what has changed? The big difference was the player petition,” Fitzsimmons said. “That was what’s different. I honestly thought even though we’d lose some (players) we’d be in really good shape to play and once I saw (the petition), it wasn’t fair for them or for me to stay.”

John Fitzsimmons Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Fitzsimmons, the Falmouth varsity coach since 2007, submitted his letter of resignation Thursday to Falmouth Schools Superintendent Gretchen McNulty. Since early last season, the veteran coach had been under fire from parents who wanted him to resign.

The player petition presented Tuesday asked the school board to remove Fitzsimmons, citing concerns about player safety and charging that the coach “struggled to prepare us for games.” It was signed by 22 of the 30 players on the 2023 team, including 21 of the 28 who would have been eligible to play in the 2024 season.

Fitzsimmons said he had resisted stepping down earlier because he did not want to buckle to what he viewed as the opinion of a few disgruntled parents.

“Once I saw it was the majority of the players, I feel like I have to respect their wishes,” Fitzsimmons said.


Fitzsimmons said he had met with school administrators on Wednesday and told them then he would need to step aside. His letter of resignation made it official.

McNulty issued a statement thanking “Coach Fitzsimmons for his many years of dedicated service to the football program and his contributions to our community.”

Fitzsimmons has been referred to as “the father of Falmouth football.” Prior to taking over as the varsity coach, Fitzsimmons was Falmouth’s youth football coordinator, then the middle school coach, and the varsity offensive coordinator in 2006. In 16 seasons under Fitzsimmons (excluding the 2020 COVID year when teams played flag football), Falmouth had 11 winning records, 12 playoff appearances, and appeared in three regional finals, losing to Marshwood in the Class B South final in 2015 and 2017 and to Skowhegan in the B North final in 2022 after upsetting No. 1 Cony in the regional semifinal. Each of those years the team that beat Falmouth went on to win the state title.


Last fall, Falmouth went 2-6 after several key players from the 2022 team chose not to return to football. Falmouth had two seniors and four juniors on its 2023 roster and had to forfeit its game against Portland because it had only 19 healthy players that week.

Fitzsimmons’ critics pointed to the forfeit as an example of the coach’s lack of concern for player safety. “Overall, we have lost confidence in Coach Fitzsimmons and know that if we continue to lose more players,” the petition stated, “the few remaining players who stay will be at higher risk of injury.”


Fitzsimmons vehemently rejected those charges.

“Player safety from my first day of coaching to my last day of coaching was always my highest priority,” he said. “The way we structured our practices, we had very limited live contact. I have a long history of being extremely conservative with player safety.”

Parents and players also questioned Fitzsimmons’ game management and portrayed Falmouth’s playbook as outmoded.

“I hated when people were talking about outmoded plays, or antiquated was another phrase I saw,” Fitzsimmons said, noting opposing coaches “would never say that about Falmouth being outdated. We are not outdated.”

While Fitzsimmons’ detractors pushed to have him removed, many former players and parents of former players were coming to his defense.

In a Jan. 6 letter to the Falmouth school board, a group of parents whose sons had formerly played for Fitzsimmons and graduated between 2011 and 2021 emphasized Fitzsimmons’ history of community service.


“It is hard to imagine a better profile and role model for young men playing high school football in the state of Maine,” the letter said.

A group of 44 former players also sent a letter supporting Fitzsimmons to the Falmouth school board. The letter was co-written by Noah Nelson (Class of 2015) and Drew Chamberlain (Class of 2016), both of whom went on to play football at Bowdoin College.

“There were a number of players both before me and after me who had great fond memories of Coach Fitzsimmons and we wanted to let (the school board) know he always put us in the best position to be successful both on the field and off,” Nelson said.

Chamberlain, a co-captain on the 2015 regional finalist team, said the players’ letter was written to counter “disparaging comments” about Fitzsimmons.

“Seeing comments about Coach Fitz putting kids in unsafe positions, or that he didn’t have the best interests of players in mind and that he wasn’t looking to develop kids into young men was really just preposterous to us,” Chamberlain said. “It was such a dichotomy from what we experienced and what was being portrayed.”



From 1990 to 2015 Fitzsimmons served as the president of the Maine Community College System. Before that he was the state commissioner of labor under former Gov. John McKernan.

Fitzsimmons resigned as the president of the community college system under pressure from then Gov. Paul LePage. At the time, Fitzsimmons said he was resigning in the best interest of the community college system because LePage had flat-funded it and threatened further funding cuts if Fitzsimmons stayed.

Shortly after he resigned, the Maine Legislature passed a joint resolution honoring Fitzsimmons, a former Marine sergeant who served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War, for his “commitment to the Maine Community College System and for his long and exemplary public service to the State and Nation.”

The presentation of the players’ petition to the school board came after months of requests by parents to administrators asking for Fitzsimmons to be removed. After being rebuffed by Falmouth Athletic Director James Coffey, who this year was also an assistant football coach, and then McNulty, the superintendent, the parent group detailed its concerns to the school board in an executive session on Jan. 8. The school board also supported Fitzsimmons, stating in a Jan. 12 response that they considered the matter closed.

That led to the player petition.

“It’s one thing having a disgruntled group of parents coming at you. It’s another when you realize it’s the players,” Fitzsimmons said.

Before the school’s announcement of his resignation, Fitzsimmons sent a short letter to his players Thursday afternoon, which said in part:

“Every season I stand in front of the players and talk about the importance of team over self. Now it’s time to practice what I preach. Since the majority of players prefer to go in a different direction with coaching leadership, I will step aside.”

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