MILO, Maine — The Penquis Valley boys basketball program didn’t have to look far to find its new head coach — just one seat down the bench.
Jason Mills, an assistant varsity coach and middle school basketball coach in the program for the last three years, was approved by the local school board to replace longtime coach Tony Hamlin.
Hamlin retired last month from a 31-year coaching career — including the last 17 seasons at Penquis — that produced more than 400 victories after leading the Patriots to the 2013 Class C state championship.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Mills, a 1992 Penquis graduate who teaches physical education at his alma mater and also has served as the Patriots’ boys varsity soccer coach for the last seven years. “And as much as I love basketball, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Mills was one of two new varsity basketball coaches approved by the school board Monday night.
Dawn McLaughlin, an elementary school physical education teacher in the Penquis system who has coached basketball at the middle school level in recent years, was named the Patriots’ girls varsity basketball coach. A former basketball player at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, she replaces Jason Snider, who recently stepped down from the post after two seasons.
This will be Mills’ second varsity basketball head coaching job, having guided John Bapst of Bangor for seven seasons from 2001 to 2008.
One major difference for Mills between that tenure and his new coaching job will be that he will be coaching in the same location where he teaches during the day, which should foster more complete relationships with his players.
“Being in the building, if a student has a problem you can get a handle on it a lot quicker because you’re in the school with the kids from 8 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “Coaching at a school where you don’t teach you don’t have that same opportunity.”
Mills has been serving in the dual roles of middle school coach and varsity assistant under Hamlin since the start of the 2010-2011 season.
Penquis reached the Eastern Maine Class C semifinals in both 2011 and 2012 before rolling to a 21-1 record this winter that was capped off by a 61-54 victory over Boothbay in the Class C state championship game.
“It’s been a great experience coaching with Tony the last three years,” said Mills. “I learned a lot from Tony that I wish I had known when I was at Bapst. His attention to detail on defense, and his attention to detail in every aspect of the game has always left his teams well prepared, and I’m going to do my best to continue that.”
This year’s Penquis team was led by juniors Isaiah Bess and Trevor Lyford, but while Lyford is set to return to the lineup next winter Bess — a 2013 first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice — and his family are considering a transfer to another school for his senior year.
Mills said he has spoken to Bess about that issue and indicated that no final decision has yet been reached.
Mills said he also will continue to serve as the Patriots’ boys varsity soccer coach — a post in which he has led Penquis to a 27-2-2 record during the last two years, including 26-0-2 in regular-season play.
“He’s done an outstanding job with soccer,” said Hamlin, who remains the athletic administrator at Penquis, “but he’s really a basketball guy.”
Even as he considered his own coaching future this winter, Hamlin believed Mills would be a logical choice to take his place whenever he did decide to retire.
“I’m really pleased,” said Hamlin. “Jason’s a really professional coach. He’s great with kids, he’s knowledgeable and loyal. The kids respect him, he’s just a great role model for them.
“I’m thrilled he’s going to get a chance to do this,” Hamlin said.