GARDINER — Gardiner Area High School has a new football coach — again.

An exhaustive and prolonged search ended when former player Matt Burgess accepted an offer to be become the school’s varsity football coach, athletic director Jeff Turnbull said Friday.

“He’s ready to get going,” Turnbull said. “We hope this is the end. The summer is going fast. It’s not like we haven’t tried; we have. It’s been a long process, but we are very happy with Matt. He’s a Gardiner guy.”

Burgess, 43, of Old Orchard Beach, graduated from Gardiner in 1987. He played under former coaches John Wolfgram and Rob Munzing, winning a state championship in 1985.

“I can’t wait to get going,” said Burgess, who spent the last 10 years teaching anatomy and sports psychology at Bridgton Academy. “Gardiner is a great opportunity. You want to go to a place where people are excited about Friday night football.”

Burgess, whose father John coached at Gardiner from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, takes over a program that’s struggled to find a successor to Jim Palmer, who resigned this spring after three successful seasons to become the athletic director at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Palmer went 22-9 in his tenure.

The school hired Rick Lovely — one of the top players in program history — on June 17, but he resigned about a week later because of a health issue.

“We began the search in April and didn’t think it would take long,” Turnbull said. “We hope to have a good year. (Burgess) is a good fit.”

Added Burgess, who graduated in 1992 from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., where he played linebacker for the Pride: “Obviously, the circumstances are tough. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rick. I feel oddly fortunate to get this opportunity.”

Burgess coached football and rugby at Bridgton, but said the constant turnover of athletes presented a unique challenge.

“I’m looking forward to working with the players and watch them develop,” he said. “The desire to develop players for a few years led me to this job. At Bridgton, we only get guys for a year. It’s a unique place.”

Burgess, who is leaving Bridgton Academy and will commute to Gardiner from Old Orchard Beach, grew up in Windsor. He played on the offensive line and at linebacker for the Tigers.

He was teammates with Palmer, Lovely and former head coach Matt Brown.

“I know the tradition,” Burgess said.

Burgess also said he plans to retain some assistant coaches, including Mike Gammon and Charlie Lawrence.

Munzing, who took over from Wolfgram in 1986, said the addition of Burgess will be “terrific for the community, not just the football program.”

“He’ll bring a wealth of outstanding character and football knowledge,” Munzing said. “The significance of the hire is that he has ties to the legacy of the program.”

Burgess inherits a team that reached the Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game in each of the last two seasons. The Tigers lost to Leavitt in both games, but they will return a deep team led by all-conference running back Alonzo Connor.

Connor rushed for 2,032 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. He also holds the single-game rushing record at Gardiner with 346 yards, which he set Sept. 24 against Mount Desert Island.

Connor said the hire is a welcomed relief to the team.

“It’s been pretty strange,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone to do the lifting program, so it’s been weird. It’s a relief to have someone. It’s going to be new, though. Things will be different.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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