HAMPDEN, Maine — Harry McCluskey, who brought nearly four decades of Texas high school coaching experience to Hampden Academy, has retired after eight years of leading the Broncos’ football fortunes.
McCluskey notified Hampden athletic administrator Mike Bisson of his decision approximately two weeks ago, and the school recently began advertising its head coaching vacancy.
“It’s been a joy to coach at Hampden,” said the 69-year-old McCluskey from his winter home in Crosby, Texas. “I’ve had a great group of kids there every year and a wonderful group of coaches to work with, most of them volunteers.
“But my wife and I have re-evaluated our situation after every season, and we just felt that this was the time to [retire].”
McCluskey, a lineman at Colorado State University during the early and mid-1960s, rejuvenated what had been a struggling Hampden program during his coaching tenure there, leading the Broncos to a 45-30 overall record and seven Pine Tree Conference Class B postseason appearances.
Four times Hampden advanced to the regional semifinals, and the Broncos made three other trips to the quarterfinals. That included last fall when third-seed Hampden was upset by No. 6 Waterville 25-17 in the quarterfinals to finish its season with a 7-2 record.
That success fueled more interest in the program and player participation numbers increased to a high of approximately 60 at the high school level last fall.
McCluskey also was instrumental in developing a 7-on-7 summer league based in Hampden that was frequented by numerous Eastern Maine football programs.
Bisson, while in his first year at Hampden, has been a longtime presence on the high school football scene as a former head coach at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln and recent chairman of the Maine Principals’ Association football committee. He is appreciative of the work McCluskey did with the Broncos.
“I certainly can tell you that Harry brought a lot of integrity and class to the Hampden Academy football program,” said Bisson. “He was a true professional.”
McCluskey had coached football for 38 years in Texas, with his most recent stint at Channelview High School from 1999 to 2001. He was also the assistant principal at that 4A-level school, which meant its enrollment was as many as 2,000 students.
He also coached at H.M. King High School in Kingsville, Texas, East Central High School in San Antonio, Stroman High in Victoria, Texas, Thornton High in Thornton, Colo., and in Aspen, Colo.
McCluskey and his wife, P.J., had been intrigued by Maine since first visiting the Pine Tree State in 1993 after reading a magazine article about Bar Harbor. Several other trips ensued, leading him to apply for the Hampden football coaching job in 2005 after seeing the opening on an Internet site.
He was a unanimous choice of the SAD 22 board of directors from among 12 applicants for the post.
The McCluskeys had split their time between Texas and the summer home they purchased in Winterport since then, and they plan to return to Maine next spring.
“When we’d come up here in the past I’d have the 7-on-7 league, two summer camps, the off-season workout program and I’d bring up some of my coaching friends from Texas [for clinics] so there wasn’t much free time for anything else,” McCluskey said. “We’re getting a little long in the tooth now, so we thought we’d try coming back without the coaching.”
Bisson sees the opening left behind by McCluskey — a contending program with an artificial-turf home at the Weatherbee Complex — as an attractive job for the right candidate. He hopes the vacancy can be filled this spring in order for McCluskey’s successor to organize the Broncos’ weight training and summer football programs.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for the right person to take the program to the next level,” said Bisson, citing Hampden’s pending placement in a new and perhaps even more competitive Eastern Maine Class B next fall under the plan to expand the state’s high school football hierarchy from three to four classes that is making its way through various MPA committees.
Under the current enrollment-based proposal, Hampden would be joined in Eastern B next fall by two-time defending Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield and fellow former Class A schools Brunswick, Messalonskee of Oakland, Cony of Augusta and Skowhegan, as well as reigning Class B state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington, Brewer and Gardiner.
“We’ve got a new challenge in a tough league,” said Bisson.