It’s been right in front of us for years, and we hardly noticed. The University of Maine at Farmington became the state’s go-to incubator for basketball coaches so gradually that all of a sudden, you look up one day and you realize how many coaches are UMF alumni.

If UMF graduate Steve Clifford, the head coach of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, was the only one on UMF’s coaching resume, it would be impressive. Clifford is not the exception.

This season, according to a list compliled by the UMF sports information office, there are 28 UMF alumni coaching a varsity high school basketball team in Maine.

“I need that athletic outlet,” Messalonskee boys coach Peter McLaughlin said. “I love teaching, but there’s nothing like coaching and getting ready for a big game.”

McLaughlin has a friendly rivalry with some of the coaches with which he attended UMF, guys like Mike Susi, who coaches the Poland girls, Tyler Tracy, coach of the Poland boys, and Travis Magnusson, coach of the Dirigo boys.

“We try to get together as much as possible,” McLaughlin said. “We want to get together and show what our programs can do.”

McLaughlin credits Dick Meader, the longtime men’s basketball coach at UMF, for instilling a love for teaching the game in the latest generation of Beaver coaches.

“I played baseball for (Meader),” McLaughlin said. “We’re talking about one of the best coaches in the history of the state of Maine.”

Jeannine Paradis, the Maranacook girls basketball coach, credits Meader with starting her coaching career. When Tom Maines was boys basketball coach at Madison, he called Meader, looking for a young coach who could run Madison’s junior varsity. Meader suggested Paradis. She spent four years at Madison before moving on to coach the Mt. Blue girls.

“I still had the second semester of my senior year left when I started at Madison,” Paradis said. “(Coaching’s) my true passion. I love it.”

Wade Morrill is in his first season as coach of the Monmouth boys, and he previously coached at Valley and Waterville. The influence of great college coaches at UMF, like Meader, women’s basketball coach Jamie Beaudoin, Cyndi Pratt (field hockey and softball) and former men’s soccer coach Robert Leib is everywhere. For Morrill, Woody Hanstein, his coach with the UMF rugby team, was an important mentor.

“We just had a good athletic culture at UMF. We had great coaches. Just talk to them. They’re just good people,” Morrill said. “That connection makes kids want to coach.”

It goes deeper than strong, steady hands guiding UMF athletes. The coaching pipeline to Farmingotn goes back decades. A lot of it stems from UMF’s education department. The university attracts students predisposed to becomming great teachers. Thos students, in turn, become great coaches. Because, really, isn’t coaching just an extension of the classroom?

“Building a team works. The athletic model works (in teaching),” Morrill said. “That’s what coaching’s all about. A lot of people who go (to UMF) are passionate about working with youth.”

“A lot of great teachers went to UMF. Coaching kind of falls in line with that,” Paradis said.

With that in mind, there’s no doubt UMF will continue to supply Maine with coaches. Maybe Clifford will pave the way for the NBA to call on another Beaver someday. Morrill has seen some of his former players go on to coach, and hopes to see it continue. A big part of coaching is passing on that passion.

“There’s no greater compliment for a coach than when one of your players wants to coach,” Morrill said. “I can’t think of a better compliment.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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