Left with less than a month to decide on a new head football coach before the season started, Gardiner Area High School didn’t stray far from its coaching staff, or its history.

Joe White, 38, has been named head coach of the Gardiner football team.

White, a 1995 Gardiner graduate and former football player, was introduced as head coach by athletic director Steve Ouellette at a team meeting Saturday morning.

The son of the late Jon White, who coached football at Gardiner, Cony and Hall-Dale and was athletic director at Gardiner, replaces Matt Burgess, who announced on Tuesday he was resigning to take a job at Bridgton Academy.

“I think the time is right for me,” White said. “I think it was a pretty smooth, quick transition. I teach in the community. I played football in this town.”

“I grew up with Matt. His father (John) and my father coached together,” White said. “There’s a lot of history there. We grew up on the football field together. The ideology and everything that surrounds this town and this program are still going to be very, very similar. So that will be the easiest thing. There are not going to be a lot of sweeping changes.”

White has been an assistant coach under Burgess the last two years. Players said they were relieved to have a local and familiar replacement take the job with the start of practice little more than three weeks away.

“It would have been hard if we got a new guy that really doesn’t know us, because we would have had to start from scratch,” said senior tackle and linebacker Nate Thibeau.

“We’re already used to his coaching methods,” said senior offensive and defensive tackle Josh Curtis. “He’s a really good coach. He’s a really dedicated guy and he loves the sport.”

Gardiner starts practicing Aug. 19. The Maine Principals’ Association hands-off period — when coaches are not allowed to have athletics-related contact with players — starts Aug. 4.

“Chad (Kempton, GHS principal) and I had a conversation about this right after Matt resigned,” Ouellette said. “I guess the biggest factor is to determine, obviously with the timing, whether we had somebody that we felt we could promote (to head coach). We felt Joe was that person. He’s got years of experience in coaching football and has worked with some outstanding coaches. We met with him and were convinced he was our next coach.”

After graduating from Gardiner, White played one year of prep football at Bridgton Academy, then attended Springfield College.

He began his coaching career as freshman football coach under former Gardiner coach John Wolfgram in Wolfgram’s final year at South Portland. He stayed a couple of years after Wolfgram’s departure, then left coaching for about a decade to focus on teaching and his family before Burgess recruited him to join his staff in 2013.

The Tigers were 0-8 in his first season and 2-6 last year. White takes over a team that graduated 15 seniors but has several players with varsity experience returning, particularly on defense.

“We’re set there,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that the defensive side of the ball is going to be able to hold up.”

Long-term, White believes stressing fundamentals, simplifying some things for the players and “going back to basics” will help the Tigers return to regular contention.

“I think maybe establishing a little better climate within the players and the parents and the coaches and the community, kind of bring that stuff back. It’s been tough the last couple of years,” he said. “We’ve always got kids that want to play football. Right now, my focus is to simplify some things. Keep it fun. These kids are excited. They always are in August.”

“I don’t have a timetable. You can’t predict anything,” he said. “We’ve got a good group coming back. I really appreciate the leadership out of the rising seniors. The underclass is loaded with athletes, but we’ve got to make them football players.”

A married father of two sons, ages 5 and 15 months, White has taught third grade at River View Community School but will be switching to teaching sixth grade to make his schedule more compatible with football.

White said he hopes to keep much of the coaching staff intact, but that is still pending those coaches applying to return and administrative approval.

“I’m hoping to keep the continuity,” he said. “The kids like those guys and respond well to them.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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