BANGOR, Maine — Dave Patterson won’t be coaching the Bangor High School boys varsity soccer team this fall.
“But I’m looking forward to bringing a chair to the Broadway end of the field and watching them play,” he said.
After a six-year run highlighted by the 2010 Class A state championship and two Eastern Maine crowns, Patterson recently tendered his resignation to battle lung cancer that he describes as “not curable but treatable.”
Patterson, who has never smoked, learned of his diagnosis earlier this year after seeking medical attention for a persistent cough. He currently is undergoing chemotherapy at CancerCare of Maine in Brewer.
“We’re obviously dealing with a health issue, and as a family it’s important for us to focus on that,” said Patterson, whose support system is led by wife Lori and sons Sam and Jack. “As much as I will miss coaching, the most important thing to do is to take care of things from a family perspective.
“And the [players] and the program shouldn’t have to deal with any indecision about whether or not I’ll be able to come back, so I think it’s better to make the decision now.”
Patterson has compiled an 81-11-8 record after taking the reins of the Bangor program from Adam Leach, who stepped down after the 2007 season.
His first three teams went a combined 49-2-2, leading to an Eastern Maine crown in 2008, a trip back to the regional final in 2009 — when the Rams allowed just one regular-season goal — and the second state crown in program history the following season.
“He’s been great in victory and great in defeat,” said Bangor High School athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine. “And our kids reflected coach Patterson’s demeanor in the way they played.”
The 2010 season epitomized Patterson’s approach to coaching the sport.
After absorbing significant graduation losses, the Rams went winless during preseason. But while others around the program may have expressed concern, Patterson merely continued to teach.
“The last thing you want to do is peak in August,’” he said.
Once the regular season began, the Rams never lost again and capped off a 17-0-1 season with a 3-2 victory over Portland in the state championship match.
Rather than try to compete with the favored Bulldogs by packing in the defense, Patterson opted to counter Portland’s talent with Bangor’s own brand of offensive aggression, a 3-5-2 format that uses two strikers, five midfielders and just three defenders.
It worked. All-American senior striker Phil Frost scored in the opening minutes of the match to give Bangor some early confidence, and he added two more first-half goals before the Rams successfully withstood a furious late-game comeback bid by Portland.
“We talked a lot about getting opportunities like that, how they don’t come along very often, and how you should never shy away from them,” Patterson said. “We weren’t going to be ultra-cautious, we weren’t going to shy away from it. We were going to do what got us there.”
Bangor has remained a consistent title contender since that championship run, reaching the regional semifinals twice in the last three years — including last fall when the Rams finished 12-4.
“Dave ended up being one of the best hires we’ve ever made,” said Vanidestine. “We got a coach who not only was successful but was as good as it gets in terms of teaching sportsmanship, leadership, commitment and maybe most importantly in giving the kids ownership. … He always had the best interests of the kids at heart.”
Patterson began coaching in his native Northern Ireland where he also played at the collegiate and professional levels.
After moving to the United States in 1990, he coached at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina, the University of Maine and Maine Maritime Academy.
But because of a job commitment, when the Bangor High School job opened up, Patterson originally was going to provide just temporary help until Vanidestine hired a permanent replacement for Leach.
“I was watching a Bangor High School baseball game at Mansfield Stadium one day, and Steve said he didn’t have anybody he was really comfortable with to take the job yet,” said Patterson. “I had coached a lot of the kids in U10s and U9s, and some parents started asking if it was something I’d consider doing.
“Eventually I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it for a year and see how it goes from there.’”
Named Eastern Maine coach of the year by the Maine Soccer Coaches Association in 2009 and 2010, Patterson credits the support of school administrators, all his assistant coaches and local youth soccer programs for creating an environment for the high school team to succeed.
The players also have a special place in Patterson’s heart.
“They’ve really been a pleasure to coach. They’re not just quality players but quality kids,” he said. “There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t want to do anything other than walk out on that field and coach.”