One of Eastern Maine’s veteran basketball coaches is returning to the school where he began his varsity career more than two decades ago.
Jamie Russell, the boys varsity coach at Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford for the past eight seasons, now has the same job at Penobscot Valley High School of Howland.
Russell replaces Dave Cullens, who resigned after five seasons with the Howlers, including an 8-10 finish last winter good for 13th place in Eastern Maine Class C. That was the team’s best regular-season record since a 9-9 mark in 2001.
Russell coached at PVHS for three seasons beginning in 1985 and guided the Howlers to a 28-29 record. In 1987 he led the team to the Eastern C quarterfinals — the last time PVHS played a tournament game at the Bangor Auditorium.
“I’m looking forward to working with Hutch [athletic administrator Gerald Hutchinson], who is one of the few people still there from when I was there before,” said Russell. “And there’s some good kids in the program, including some second-generation kids from players I coached there.”
Russell cited family and travel reasons for moving from PCHS to Penobscot Valley.
Last year, he and his family had dual residences in his native LaGrange and Guilford so his younger son, Bryan, could attend PCHS and play basketball for his father.
But the cost of maintaining both homes during the winter was prohibitive, so the decision was made to move back to the family’s home in LaGrange. Bryan Russell subsequently was unable to obtain a superintendent’s agreement to attend PCHS and is now a sophomore at Penquis Valley of Milo, the high school students from LaGrange typically attend.
In addition, coach Russell’s move to Penobscot Valley will shorten his daily commute, as he said it is 26 miles from his job as a physical education teacher at Central of Corinth to his coaching job in Guilford, and 34.4 miles from his LaGrange home to Guilford.
This winter his new afternoon commute will include a 14.2-mile drive from LaGrange to Howland, and his home is right along the route from his teaching job to his coaching job.
“It’s not the only reason, but it is a factor,” said Russell of the travel considerations. He added that because of the overall decrease in coaching-related travel, he’s likely to be able to see as many as 10 of his son’s basketball games this winter.
Russell has a 264-182 record in 23 years at PVHS, Central and PCHS, with one Eastern C title and two other trips to the regional finals.
After leaving Penobscot Valley, Russell coached at Central of Corinth for 12 seasons, highlighted by a trip to the Eastern C championship game in 1999.
He became head coach at Piscataquis in the fall of 2000, and in his first season led the Pirates to a 20-1 record and the Eastern Maine Class C crown.
The Pirates returned to the Eastern C final in 2007 before bowing to Calais.
PCHS finished 9-9 in 2007-08, good for 10th place in Eastern C. The Pirates were ousted by No. 7 Fort Kent in a preliminary-round game.
Russell’s coaching tenures at PCHS and Central are the longest for a boys varsity basketball coach at each school since reclassification in 1961.
“I’m excited to be going back to Howland, but I equally feel like I’m losing a best friend by leaving Guilford,” said Russell.