Just two coaches have led the Dexter Regional High School boys basketball program since the current building the Tigers call home opened in 1968.
Now each has more than 300 victories.
Peter Murray joined his predecessor, the late Ed Guiski, in that club last Thursday with a 56-47 victory at Piscataquis of Guilford, extending a remarkable level of consistency within the program.
Guiski’s teams won 308 games in 26 years with the Dexter boys before he retired from that post in 1993. He later coached the Tigers’ girls team for three years.
Murray’s 300th win came four games into his 27th season as the Tigers’ head coach.
“When coach Guiski got his 300th win I was thoroughly impressed by that,” said the 59-year-old Murray, an English teacher who spent 11 years coaching under Guiski at Dexter before ascending to the head coaching job.
“When I took over I was 34 years old and thought I’d never coach long enough to get there. I didn’t think I would do this, but here I am all these years later and it’s been a labor of love.”
Murray’s tenure with the Tigers has been marked by an emphasis on work ethic and the fundamentals of the sport.
“That’s pointed out at the very beginning of every year, that there’s a lot of things going on in a basketball game that have nothing to do with skill,” he said. “We know dribbling is a skill and shooting is a skill and with repetition you get good at them, but there are other things that are all about effort. You get a loose ball on the floor and a rebound and defense, that’s just effort so anybody can be good at that and the idea is that everybody should be good at that.”
More often than not, the Tigers under Murray have outscored teams by outdefending them, something that reflects the lingering milltown mentality of the community once known for the likes of Dexter Shoe Co. and Fayscott-Landis Machine Corp.
“When you walk into this gym to see a Dexter basketball game you know that somebody over the course of the next four quarters is going to take a charge or two. The man-to-man approach, the deliberate offensive approach and being fundamentally sound, those are the hallmarks,” said Steve Bell, who played for Dexter during the mid-1980s after Murray joined Guiski’s staff and now is the school’s principal.
Murray played basketball at Schenck High School in East Millinocket under another 300-win coach in Ron Marks, and then was student-teaching at Dirigo High School in Dixfield in 1982 when he was asked to coach that school’s freshman basketball team.
He took the job as freshman coach and varsity assistant under head coach Robin Marshall, and Dirigo went on that winter to capture its second straight Class C state championship.
“From there it just evolved,” Murray said.
Murray joined Guiski’s staff at Dexter during what soon became a high point for the program, as the Tigers won the 1985 Eastern Maine Class B title and captured the state crown a year later.
His personal coaching philosophy continued to emerge throughout his relationships with Guiski, Marks and another major influence, Murray’s father-in-law Bill Obermeyer, whose teams won 316 games at Kennebunk from the 1970s through the mid-1990s.
“All three are in the [Maine Basketball] Hall of Fame so that’s three pretty good people to take a look at,” Murray said. “What I learned mostly is there’s no one way to do it. They all did it a little different, you just have to have a style you’re comfortable with and that’s what I’ve done.”
Murray’s style has led Dexter to 17 seasons with at least 11 regular-season victories, highlighted by 16-2 marks in 1995 and 2005, the latter year leading to an Eastern Maine Class C championship with a team that included his son Matt.
“The 300 number is more about longevity than anything else,” he said. “There’s just so many obstacles for coaches these days so that people don’t stay with it.”
Yet Murray’s coaching contributions to the school are not limited to basketball. He coached the Dexter boys soccer team for 25 years and continues as the school’s longtime tennis coach.
He’s also been heavily involved with the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches, serving as the organization’s president and in 2016 becoming the first New England representative named to a two-year term on the executive board of the National High School Basketball Coaches Association.
Murray’s immediate goal involves this year’s promising team, which is 5-0 heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. clash against 5-0 Stearns of Millinocket in the Hall of Fame Basketball Classic at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“He’s really all about the team,” junior forward Brett Kusnierz said. “It’s always ‘We not I.’ He’s just really passionate and loves doing it.”
Kusnierz and his teammates not only appreciate Murray’s knowledge of the game, but also his reserved yet confident coaching approach.
“We do a lot of work in practice,” Kusnierz said. “That’s not to say that he doesn’t help us during a game, too. We might not hear him yelling at us but during timeouts and at other times he lets us know what we have to do and we get it done.”
Murray doesn’t have any immediate retirement plans but acknowledges that as his 60th birthday approaches it won’t be long before he turns over the coaching reins to the next generation.
“I can feel my time coming to an end, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and obviously I’ve had a lot of good players,” he said. “I don’t score any points, I don’t get any rebounds. It’s a players’ game, and I’ve been fortunate to have some good players come through here.”