What’s the toughest high school basketball coaching job in the state?
Every town has its expectations, and every coach on the sidelines is under the microscope of all the coaches in the bleachers during a time of year when often there is little else to focus upon but the fate of the local teams in small-town Maine.
But few coaching gigs can be any tougher than working the bench for the Jonesport-Beals boys basketball team.
Ask Vinnie MacLean.
This was all his teams did the last two seasons:
— In 2010 the Royals finished 16-4 with a team led by sophomores and freshmen, reaching the Eastern Maine Class D semifinals before losing by two points to the team that went on to win the state title.
— In 2011 they went 18-2 with a team led by juniors and sophomores, reaching the Eastern D final before falling to the team that went on to win the state title — and they achieved that despite losing a key player in a fatal car accident three months before the season started.
MacLean may not have been perfect in his decision making during six years as the Royals’ head coach, but for his work this winter he was named Eastern Maine Class D coach of the year by his peers, the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches.
It wasn’t good enough. Through the unique process used to hire coaches in the Jonesport-Beals system, MacLean was voted out of office by the school board after going 34-6 the last two years.
Under that process, incumbent coaches must interview with the school board each and every year along with anyone else interested in the post, as opposed to most school systems where that work is done by school administrators who generally have more day-to-day involvement with the players and coaches.
Could it be any more political?
The Jonesport-Beals case is compounded by the program’s legacy of nine state championships and 13 Eastern Maine titles — a legacy well earned and well remembered by local residents, many of whom like MacLean helped bring at least one gold ball home to the Moosabec region.
But Jonesport-Beals’ last state title was a generation ago in 1993, and its last regional title came in 1999 — long before MacLean replaced the legendary Ordman Alley on the bench to become just the second head coach in the program’s history.
That Jonesport-Beals is even competing for championships these days borders on the remarkable given that the school has fewer than 75 students in grades 9-12 and even in Class D must face opponents with more than double its enrollment.
But the Royals currently boast a talented group of players led by Bangor Daily News All-Maine sophomore Garet Beal and juniors Matthew Alley and Justin Alley, and through their promise the expectations have been nothing short of reviving the glory days.
That it hasn’t produced gold yet stems from many factors, chief among them the experience and talent of the last two state championship teams from Schenck of East Millinocket and Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, two schools with rich basketball traditions of their own.
Perhaps the stunning nature of Jonesport-Beals’ 49-26 loss to Central Aroostook in this year’s EM final — after averaging 78 points in its quarterfinal and semifinal victories — was the last straw for school board members amid other inevitable small-town issues that typically boil down to personalities and playing time.
Whatever the reason, certainly Vinnie MacLean is paying a heavy price.