Legend Lawley leaves the game on high (VIDEO)

Today is officially a changing of the guard in Nova Scotia football.

One of the most iconic figures in the province’s gridiron landscape is calling it a career after achieving tremendous success with a perennial powerhouse.

Jeff Lawley has announced today that he is retiring from coaching.  He will be leaving his positions as Co-Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator of Citadel Phoenix of the Nova Scotia Student Athletic Federation Football League (NSSAFFL).

Lawley’s gridiron ascension began in 1983 when he played at the linebacker position for the Halifax West Warriors.  The next year (1984), he finished out his high school playing career with the Queen Elizabeth High (QEH) School Lions.

Jeff Lawley Acadia

From 1985 to 1989, Lawley suited up for AUS team Acadia Axemen.  During his final season with the Axemen, he was a Team Captain.

Once his playing career concluded, Lawley jumped into coaching and began stints with both the Axemen and the Lions as Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach in the fall of 1990.

Jeff Lawley 2005 Coaching Staff

It was during that time that Lawley forged a strong partnership with Lions Head Coach Mike Tanner.  It was strengthened in 2002 when Lawley took on the role Lions Co-Head Coach in 2007. It extended when QEH and St. Pat’s merged into one school in 2007.

Jeff Lawley 2011


During his 26 year tenure, Lawley guided the both the Lions and Phoenix to 13 Provincial Championships alongside Tanner. He has also seen many players come and move on to great success after their career with the Phoenix. Some of those include Steve Morley (Winnipeg Blue Bombers), Jesse Mills (Carleton Ravens) Kadeem Adams (Western Mustangs) and A’dre Fraser (Guelph Gryphons).

Citadel Five Peat


For his part, Lawley has experienced many special gridiron moments.  However, there are a few moments that standout amongst the rest.

“The highlights were winning my first Championship in 1994, coaching a future Russ Jackson Award Winner (Dan Parker), winning an unprecedented fifth Provincial Title in a row 2012, coaching with a staff comprised totally of former players and Gatorade shower at 2015 Championship Game,” recalled Lawley.

During his career, Lawley was not immune to facing challenges but he got by with the help of those close to him when it came to one key aspect that dictates the barometer of success for a football program.

“It’s always a struggle to get finances to run a team,” said Lawley.  “For the first 10 years, I had to borrow my dad’s video camera and convince my wife Shelley to film our games so we could use the film as a valuable teaching tool.”

“Full credit to my wife for all the unpleasant filming conditions she had to endure to help our teams be successful!”

Coach Tanner 8

Having experienced success, Lawley credits a few fellow coaches that have served as mentors and given him the tools needed for longevity in the coaching ranks.

“My mentors were Mike Tanner for passion and accountability and Sonny Wolfe for professionalism,” commented Lawley.  “Jacques Dussault taught me preparation methods and pushing me to greater heights and Dan Laramee for being a constant sounding board.”

Jeff Lawley five peat

Moreover, it’s not lost on him that a few key individuals made sacrifices which enabled him to enjoy a long, enjoyable gridiron coaching career.

“The keys to longevity are having an understanding wife and an employer that sees the value in giving back to the community,” elaborated Lawley.  “Selfless Plug: Thank you Scotia Fuels!”

Jeff Lawley and Rob Wilson

With Lawley’s retirement, Mike Tanner will remain as Head Coach.  As for the Defensive Coordinator positions, Lawley has officially handed the reins over to Matt Wheeler, who is no stranger to the Phoenix.

Wheeler has coached with the Phoenix for the past eight years and most recently instructed the defensive backs. Moreover, he played under Lawley and Tanner with the Lions and was selected as a league All-Star.  Wheeler’s gridiron path is somewhat similar to Lawley’s as he previously coached and played with the Axemen as well as the Warriors.

Citadel Coaches 2015

As for Lawley’s legacy, it can be simply seen in the composition of the current Phoenix coaching staff. With the enjoyable, yet successful environment Lawley and Tanner created within the football program, several players wanted to give back to the very place where they realized their dreams and achieved excellence along the way.

Jeff Lawley with Citadel Coaches

For his part, Lawley will miss the current coaches that he has spent hours on end building a perennial powerhouse in Nova Scotia with throughout the years.

“Each and every one of them played for me and chose to come back and coach,” reflected Lawley of the Phoenix coaching staff.  “I believe that is the greatest credit a coach can ever have – to have a player want to give back to the program.”

“I count my staff among my closest friends.”

Jeff Lawley


Now that the torch has been passed on and Lawley is about to embark on a new life adventure, he has some advice to offer to those considering entering the coaching ranks, particularly in Atlantic Canada.

“Take advantage of the terrific resources we have here in Atlantic Canada – attend the Annual Mega Clinic in Truro, reach out to the four CIS schools to ask questions and learn from them, get involved with Spring Football and encourage your players to participate,” offered Lawley.

Citadel Coaches


As his coaching career is over after a 26 year run, Lawley is appreciative of the experiences he’s enjoyed with the one mentor who saw something special in him and gave him the life changing opportunity of his career.

“Special thanks to Mike Tanner for taking a chance on me 26 years ago,” expressed Lawley.

Some of the photo credits courtesy of Cathy Connell

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One Comment

  1. I only wish I had the chance to play more then one year under this amazing coach and the rest of the staff. Truly a blow to Halifax/NS football as one of the greatest people involved in the sport retires.

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