Ed Kohtala admits much of his coaching career that spanned from the freshman level of high school to the NCAA Division I collegiate ranks was focused not on the moment, but on the next step.
But a three-year respite after more than three decades on the sidelines has provided Kohtala a different perspective for his new job as the new boys basketball coach at Orono High School.
“It really was the first time in more than 30 years of involvement with basketball that I had time to reflect,” he said. “Particularly in the college coaching experience there was such a domination in your thought process about what was next.
“I think one of the real good things here was just the chance to step back and remember the things I loved about basketball and teaching and coaching. In some ways I’m probably better equipped to enjoy those moments now than during those years spent thinking so much about what’s to follow.”
Kohtala was selected from a pool of 11 applicants to replace Jason Coleman, who left the Red Riots’ post after seven years to become director of basketball operations for the University of Maine men’s basketball program.
“We were really excited and pleased with the number of applicants we got for the position and I think it spoke volumes for the body of work Jason and his staff did over the course of seven years to build the program and have it on good terms when he decided to step down and take on the University of Maine job,” said Orono High School athletic administrator Mike Archer.
“Obviously we’re super, super excited about Ed and what he brings to our school.”
Kohtala sees his new post as a chance to give back to a town he, wife Angie and daughters Camille and Katherine have called home since 2009.
“It’s a community-based experience,” he said. “Sometimes in coaching you feel like you plug into a situation. Here I was already part of this community and simply added a responsibility. Hopefully I can give a little back to a community that’s been so good to us.”
A native of Vienna in western Maine and graduate of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Kohtala began his coaching career with the freshman boys basketball team at Mt. Blue shortly after graduating from UMaine with a degree in education.
He spent 15 years as a high school teacher and coach in Maine, Florida and Georgia before turning to the collegiate ranks during the 1996-1997 season as a graduate assistant at the University of 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 was named head coach at Division III Alma (Mich.) College in 2001 and stayed for six years before returning to the Division I ranks as an assistant, first at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and then back in his home state at UMaine.
Kohtala returned to the high school level during the 2012-2013 season, replacing the legendary Roger Reed as head coach at Bangor High School. He guided the Rams to a 32-24 record in three seasons with appearances in the Eastern A quarterfinals in 2013 and 2014 before leaving that post in 2015.
“He just brings a wide range of basketball experience to the table,” Archer said.
Coleman guided Orono to a 78-64 record with six postseason appearances and three straight trips to the regional championship game — Class C in 2015 and Class B in 2016 and 2017.
A youthful Orono team went 6-12 during the 2017-2018 regular season to earn the 11th and final playoff berth in Class B North, then upset No. 6 Ellsworth in the preliminary round before falling in the quarterfinals to No. 3 Presque Isle.
“Jason made a great investment in the kids, and as a community member I’ve been watching those kids and going to the tournament games,” said Kohtala, who teaches mathematics at Bangor High School. “It’s been great to watch the success of the Orono basketball team.”
Orono will be led next winter led by 6-foot-3 senior forward Connor Robertson, who missed the end of last season with a knee injury. Other returning players include 6-6 junior center Sam Martin and two sophomores who earned major playing time as freshmen this past winter in guard Jason Desisto and 6-3 forward Zack Dill.
“I feel like we’ve got a good nucleus back to make some improvements and push forward above what they were able to accomplish this year, and I certainly feel that Ed is that person who is going to allow us to do that,” Archer said.
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