BANGOR, Maine — A new era in Bangor High School athletics has begun with the appointment of University of Maine assistant coach Ed Kohtala as the Rams’ new boys varsity basketball coach.
Kohtala’s nomination for the post was given final approval by the Bangor School Committee on Wednesday night.
“The hard work paid off,” said Bangor High School athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine. “We got it right, we found the right person to lead the Bangor boys basketball program. Ed Kohtala is an outstanding addition to Bangor High School and the Greater Bangor community.”
Kohtala replaces Roger Reed, who resigned in June after school officials asked him to choose between continuing his 27-year career as the Rams’ head coach or his current pursuit of a seat in the Maine House of Representatives.
“Bangor High School, for anyone who knows basketball in the state of Maine, is one of the great jobs at this level,” said Kohtala, a graduate of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington. “Coach Reed obviously has had a tremendous career here, and to have the chance to try to carry on that tradition and lead this program is a tremendous opportunity.”
The 54-year-old Kohtala spent the last three years as an assistant coach with the men’s basketball program at UMaine, where his duties included scouting, game preparation and working with the post players. Kohtala is a 1981 graduate of UMaine, where he was a manager and practice player for the men’s basketball team and who tried twice unsuccessfully to earn a spot on the roster.
“The emotional part of that for me,” said Kohtala of his decision to leave UMaine, “was that as a Maine kid who so badly wanted to make the University of Maine team that all these years later, I finally had.”
The Vienna native began his coaching career at Mt. Blue shortly after graduating from UMaine with a degree in education. He went on to spend 15 years as a high school teacher and coach in Maine, Florida and Georgia before turning to the collegiate ranks during the 1996-97 season as a graduate assistant at Florida under head coach Billy Donovan.
A year later he joined head coach Rick Barnes at Clemson, and in 1998 Kohtala went with Barnes to the University of Texas, where he helped the Longhorns make three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and win the 1999 Big 12 regular-season championship.
Kohtala became the head coach at Division III Alma (Mich.) College in 2001 and stayed for six years before returning to the Division I ranks, first at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and then back to his home state at UMaine.
“Ed has great experience at the Division I and Division III college levels as well as the high school level, and there are a lot of elements of coaching at those levels that are very similar,” said UMaine head coach Ted Woodward.
“As a parent it would be an honor to have my kids play for for Ed,” he added. “He’s a great coach and a tremendous mentor for young people.”
Kohtala also will teach mathematics at Bangor High School.
“Ed has a wonderful supportive quality that will significantly impact the students at Bangor High School,” said Vanidestine.
The opportunity to return to the classroom amid Bangor’s academic setting was among the primary reasons cited by Kohtala for seeking to return to the high school ranks, but the most important involved family considerations.
“I’ve had some great opportunities to coach with some tremendous people at the college level, but you also understand the turnover and the lack of security that comes with it,” said Kohtala, who lives in Orono with his wife Angie and daughters Camille and Katherine. “I have friends who coached at three different places in five years.
“Sometimes it takes a certain situation to clarify where you find yourself, and when I pulled out of Kansas City after I took the Maine job, driving those first 20 miles east was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because my wife and girls were staying behind until we sold our house, and leaving them made me think about not only the sacrifices I had made but also the sacrifices my family had made.
“Once we all got together back in Maine I knew that I had changed, and that the opportunities from here on out that I would consider — we couldn’t go through that again.”
Kohtala is replacing one of the winningest high school basketball coaches in state history, as Reed compiled a career record of 571-201 at Bangor Christian and Bangor — highlighted by a 457-103 mark and eight Class A state championships at Bangor.
Reed led Bangor to its first state title in 34 years in 1993, marking the first of six Class A state championships won by the Rams during an 11-year span through 2003 — 1993, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2003.
The Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee guided Bangor to subsequent state titles in 2007 and 2011, as well as additional berths in the state championship game in 1992 and 2008. He also coached Bangor Christian to an Eastern Maine Class D title in 1979.
The issue that led to Reed’s resignation was whether he could handle the demands of being both a state legislator and head basketball coach during the winter months that are the heart of the basketball season and when the Legislature is in its regular session.
Reed, who in June won the Republican primary for the House District 23 seat that serves Carmel, Etna, Hermon and Stetson, now is running against Democrat Richard Thomas of Hermon in the Nov. 6 general election.
Reed’s final Bangor High School basketball team finished 14-6 and advanced to the 2012 Eastern Maine Class A semifinals.
“Having watched Bangor play the last few years and seeing their defense-first mentality and unselfish play,” said Kohtala, “as the program moves forward and I have a chance to put my stamp on it, if people say that we play like a coach Reed team I’ll take it as an extreme compliment.”