As an undergraduate at the University of Maine, Ed Kohtala was a manager and practice player for the men’s basketball team who tried twice unsuccessfully to earn a roster spot.
That inability to earn a Black Bears’ jersey was a personal disappointment of his own playing days that no doubt added to Kohtala’s level of compassion for current players at Bangor High School as he told them Thursday of his decision to step down as the Rams’ boys varsity coach after three seasons.
“With this team the only significant regret I have personally was that as hard as this group worked both last summer and during the season that we couldn’t get them into the tournament,” said Kohtala, whose 2014-15 club finished with a 6-12 record.
“This group of kids competed every night and almost without exception put themselves in a position to win. We didn’t win as often as we’d like, but with their effort and preparation they put themselves in a position to win and I’m extremely proud of them.”
The 57-year-old Kohtala, a longtime high school and college coach who replaced the legendary Roger Reed in the Bangor job after a three-year stint as an assistant coach back at the University of Maine, opted to resign after conducting a postseason analysis of the program once the Rams finished out of the Class A playoff picture for the first time since 1986.
He determined several steps he thought the varsity head coach would need to take in order to help the program return to a championship level, then concluded that at this stage of his career he wasn’t the right guy for that challenge.
The sudden death of his younger brother, John, last month subsequently added a familial aspect to that decision.
Some of the feedback to Kohtala’s resignation has suggested he quit on the program. But the thought here is that this coach to the core merely came to the gut-wrenching conclusion that a different leader would better serve Bangor’s basketball future — an act of selflessness admired on most teams.
Getting Bangor back to the top of the basketball ranks that has been its home for the last two decades won’t be easy.
There’s no certainty the talent level throughout the program during the coming years will match that of the eight Class A state championship teams Reed fielded during his 27-year tenure.
And the playing field itself will change if a proposal to expand the state’s high school basketball world from four to five classes gains final approval from the Maine Principals’ Association on April 30.
Bangor would become part of a new Class AA comprised of the state’s largest schools, and while the Rams likely would retain some of their closer rivalries, the Class AA North region they would join would require a significant number of long road trips at the varsity level to compete in a division also expected to include Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Windham and three Portland schools — Cheverus, Deering and Portland High.
Kohtala indicated he would like to contribute in a smaller way to the local basketball scene in the future. His experience and the positive approach he displayed while leading the Rams at the varsity level can’t help but be beneficial — even in a reduced role.
“My intent is to teach and hopefully find some way eventually to have an impact on youth basketball in the area,” he said.