Joe White took over the Gardiner Area High School football coaching job in 2015, eager to turn around his alma mater’s fortunes. But all along, White knew he wasn’t signing on to spend the next decade or two on the Tigers’ sideline.

“When I first was hired, I kind of had a five-year perspective,” White said. “I wanted to help the program rebound a little bit. … We were struggling a little bit, so I threw my hat in the ring and wanted to try to help improve the climate, and try to get Gardiner back to some winning ways.”

After that fifth season came to a close, White decided he’d had enough. The 42-year-old coach notified Gardiner athletic director Nate Stubbert early last week of his decision to resign, and said Monday he’s doing so to spend more time with his wife, Annie, and sons Nolan, 9, and Henry, 5.

“I just decided it was the right time to be done, for no other reason than I’ve got other things I want to do,” White said. “My family is first priority at this point, so I’m going to give up the time with football to be around home more and help with my kids and kind of watch them come up through.

“It was a short window of opportunity, but I had a good time, and some good memories.”

Stubbert said White had told the school of the possibility of his leaving.

“It was his own choice, and we certainly wish him well in the future,” he said. “It was something he said may happen. … It had been mentioned before. It wasn’t a complete surprise.”

White took over a Tigers team that had gone 2-14 in the previous two seasons, and went 14-31 in his five years at the helm, including 1-4 against rival Cony in the state’s oldest rivalry. In that stretch were two years during which Gardiner dropped to Class C and was a competitive program, going 9-12 and making the playoffs both years.

The highlight was the 2017 season, when the Tigers started 1-5 but won four straight games, including a win over Cony in the regular season finale and then a playoff upset of No. 1 Leavitt, before falling to Cape Elizabeth in the Class C South final.

“There were some big moments,” White said. “It really felt like things were back to Gardiner football standards. That in particular was a pretty good run in 2017.”

Gardiner made it back to the playoffs in 2018, falling to Fryeburg Academy in the C South semis. Moved back into the larger Pine Tree Conference Class B for this year, however, the Tigers struggled, finishing 2-6.

“When you’re not sure who your opponent’s going to be or it changes every couple of years,” White said, “those inconsistencies can cause some problems for you, as far as game preparation and who you match up well against.”

White’s last game, however, showed one of his strengths. The 2-5 Tigers threatened 7-0 Cony, battling the Rams before falling in a 15-6 final.

“I thought he was a great coach. … He’s good at motivating your team,” junior defensive back Kyle Adams said. “He knew what he was doing. … Before the Cony game he really got us into it, he got the whole team into the gym and he (went through) the history of football and told us how it was.”

Stubbert praised White’s work with the team.

“Joe did a tremendous job while he was here. I have the utmost respect for Joe,” Stubbert said. “He tried to do everything the right way, which I really appreciate as an athletic director.”

White will continue to work as a sixth grade language arts teacher at Gardiner Regional Middle School, but doesn’t see himself getting back into coaching at the head or assistant levels, with the Tigers or elsewhere.

“It’s time to close the book and do other things,” White said. “It’s pretty much a clean break from coaching altogether. I don’t even have the intention of coaching my own kids. I just want to watch them play and have fun doing that. … I had a good experience in Gardiner, I got some head coaching experience, but it’ll more than likely be the last.”

Stubbert said the school will start looking internally for a replacement.

“We’re probably looking at inside first,” he said, “…because they know our system and we have some coaches on staff that have expressed interest.”

Stubbert added that he’s hoping to fill the coaching vacancy soon.

“Sooner rather than later. I want to get this done as quickly as possible,” he said. “I want to return some normalcy. I don’t want this to be a big issue, I don’t want it to be drawn-out. I want our new coach to become as familiar with our system as possible and as familiar with our kids as possible.”

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