December 2, 2004
To call Steve Patrick Belles Irish is to call the Pope Catholic.
"Around here Steve was known as ‘The Belles of St. Mary’s’," said Knights football coach Pat Farrell, in reference to the 1945 Bing Crosby/ Ingrid Bergman film. "He’s as Irish as they come."
Perhaps that explains some of Belles’ luck.
In 1984 he quarterbacked Phoenix St. Mary’s to the big school state championship and was named Phoenix Metro player of the year.
In 1988 he won a national championship when Notre Dame beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.
In 2001 he landed a dream job near his westside roots when the Glendale Mountain Ridge coaching post opened up.
Four seasons later, his Mountain Lions (9-4) will compete for their first 5A state title Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium against defending champ Hamilton.
"I’ve been fortunate in so many ways," Belles said.
But luck is only a fraction of the story behind one of the state’s brightest young coaching minds.
"When you look at what he’s accomplished, it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing," Lions quarterback Austin Martin said. "That makes it easy to buy into his system."
Belles’ coaching career began in 1996 at Desert Mountain where he compiled a 26-25 record in four seasons — including a stunning win at Mountain View — with a new program that was thrown into difficult region alignments.
But he was gleaning lessons for his career at every turn.
Belles was only a sophomore at St. Mary’s when he was thrust into the starter’s role after the starting quarterback suffered a broken arm before the season opener against Phoeni x Trevor Browne, a state power at the time.
"He didn’t light up the skies with passes that night but he did the things we needed to do to win the game," Farrell said. "That was Steve — instant composure along with athletic skills, toughness, intelligence and an incredible instinct for the game of football."
Heavily recruited by then-Fighting Irish coach Gerry Faust to be a classic dropback passer, Belles’ fortunes waned when Lou Holtz and the option offense came on board one year later.
Instead of transferring to another school where his talents could be utilized, Belles offered to play other positions and ended up serving time on special teams, at quarterback, tailback, receiver and flanker.
"Those things have served him well," said Farrell, "because now he has played every position that he coaches."
Belles cites many influences on his career, from his older brother Mark, who coached at Glendale Community College, to his assistants, to Holtz. But his greatest influence was Farrell, for whom he started for three years and then served as an assistant for five after graduating from Notre Dame.
"Pat was the guy who was going to teach me life lessons," said Belles, who is second to Ryan Kealy in a host of St. Mary’s records. "I learned so many things from him, but the bottom line was you try to be fair with everyone and you try to make every kid feel important from your stars all the way down to that last kid who never gets to play."
Belles’ philosophy is having an impact at Mountain Ridge where the Mountain Lions are finally living up to their preseason hype after a slow start — thanks to a physical, East Valley-style rushing attack.
"Coach is pretty confident in his game plan and that makes us all confident," tailback Nick Bell said.
Still, Belles said he is a long way from feeling satisfied with his accomplishments.
"Once you start thinking it’s just you is when you’re going to get knocked off your pedestal," he said. "My success is only as good as the people around me and we’ve still got some work to do."