Mike Fogarty arrived at this week’s meeting of the RSU-SAD 29 board of directors fully expecting to remain the boys varsity basketball coach at Houlton High School — having been recommended for the yearly appointment by a selection committee.
But an executive session held by the board during that meeting changed all that.
School board members came out of that private session and approved Rob Moran as the Shiretowners’ new head coach by a unanimous vote, leaving a stunned Fogarty to wonder what had happened.
“I thought I might miss out on a couple of votes,” said Fogarty. “I didn’t think it would be that dramatic.”
Fogarty had been Houlton’s head coach for the last five years, compiling a 35-60 overall record including a 6-30 mark while attempting to rebuild the program during the last two years after the Shiretowners reached the Eastern Maine Class C semifinals in both 2006 and 2007 and also qualified for postseason play in 2008.
Earlier this spring, Fogarty was recommended to return as coach with reservations in the aftermath of the team’s struggles during the previous two seasons, an addendum that led him initially not to re-apply for the job.
But when the school board later re-opened the search to fill the opening, the former Sanford High School and University of Maine at Farmington standout had a change of heart and opted to seek to regain his job.
Fogarty was one of “three or four” candidates for the position, according to RSU/SAD 29 superintendent of schools Mike Hammer, and he subsequently earned the search committee’s recommendation.
The school board ultimately went in a different direction by an 11-0 vote.
“The board has the prerogative to look at all the candidates,” said Hammer, who added that he could not otherwise discuss what transpired during the executive session.
Fogarty said he has “been inundated with e-mails and text messages of support from former players, parents of former players, other coaches and people from the community about this. It makes me feel good, but I’m still not sure what exactly happened.”
And he remains interested in learning why the board turned to another candidate.
“I’m looking at what my options are as to finding out what happened in the executive session,” Fogarty said. “I feel like I’m owed that explanation.”
Moran is a veteran basketball presence in Aroostook County, most recently coaching Houlton’s eighth-grade boys team for the last two seasons along with being a board-certified official and color analyst for high school basketball broadcasts on WHOU radio (100.1 FM) in Houlton.
Moran also has nine years of varsity basketball coaching experience, at East Grand of Danforth in 1996 and 1997 and then at Hodgdon from 1999 through 2005. At Hodgdon he compiled an 89-47 overall record with six postseason appearances and an undefeated regular season in 2002.
Moran didn’t apply for the Houlton coaching job until after learning that Fogarty originally hadn’t re-applied.
“Mike Fogarty and I are friends, and we’ve been friends ever since he moved to Houlton,” said Moran. “I’ve got great respect for him as a person and a coach.”
Moran will inherit several returning veterans from last year’s Houlton team that finished 3-15 but ended the season on an optimistic note with back-to-back victories over Caribou and Hodgdon.
There’s also a contingent of talented younger players expected to join the high school ranks in the next year or two, leading to some optimism within the community.
“I think we’ve got a good mix of young and old,” said Moran. “We’ve got some pretty talented upperclassmen and some underclassmen with potential.”
Houlton will face a challenging schedule as it attempts to return to postseason play in the 2011-12 season. While the Shiretowners will no longer play perennial Class C power Calais beginning next winter, opponents will include Class B programs Presque Isle and Caribou as well as defending Class C state champion Lee Academy, Hodgdon, Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln, Stearns of Millinocket, Schenck of East Millinocket, Fort Kent and Madawaska.
“We should be competitive in a very competitive Class C,” said Moran. “The goal for me is always to get to Bangor.”
Fogarty briefly resigned from the Houlton job in 2009 for reasons that had nothing to do with circumstances within the program.
At the time, he coached the Houlton boys team during the winter and then his daughter Amanda’s travel team after the high school season. But when Amanda entered Houlton High School as a freshman in the fall of 2008, Fogarty could not continue to coach both teams under a Maine Principals’ Association policy that limits a high school coach’s opportunity to coach student-athletes from his or her school beyond the boundaries of the established season for any particular sport.
Fogarty appealed his case to the MPA because he was coaching boys basketball during the winter and girls basketball during the travel league season so he wasn’t coaching the same players, but when the appeal was denied he left the high school post so he could continue to coach his daughter.
The MPA agreed to review the policy at the time, and what resulted was an amendment that enables a person to coach his or her son or daughter from the same high school where he coaches on a separate out-of-season team in the same sport as long as there are no other athletes from that school on that team or any opposing teams.
Fogarty subsequently re-applied and was hired to return to the Houlton boys varsity squad for the 2009-10 season.
As for his basketball future, Fogarty’s immediate plans involve following his daughter as she plays her senior season at Houlton High School.
He’s also optimistic about the future of the boys team he’ll no longer coach.
“Rob is going to do a great job,” said Fogarty. “He’s been my eighth-grade coach and done a wonderful job, and we’re good friends. He’ll do just fine.
“I think I just need some closure with this.”