GRAY — After 392 wins in a high school basketball coaching career stretching 31 seasons, Tony DiBiase of South Portland will open his 32nd season at his sixth school in the state this winter when he takes over as head coach of the boys’ varsity program at Gray-New Gloucester.

DiBiase, 56, was hired last week at the Class B school, which is a member of the Western Maine Conference. DiBiase replaces Scott Flagg, who resigned after four seasons.

“I’ve been looking around for a while,” said DiBiase. “I thought about it and talked to some people about the job and they thought it would be a good place to get involved. The school is looking to upgrade all their athletic programs.

“During the interview, I was impressed with everyone I dealt with. From the recreation department, all the way up through the various levels, they were really supportive. They want to do well and be very competitive. As a coach, that’s what you’re looking for. I just felt it was a good fit.”

DiBiase has been out of coaching high school basketball for the past three winters. Prior to that, he coached at South Portland for 17 seasons and qualified for the Western Class A tournament 15 times. In his first nine seasons with the Red Riots, his teams reached the Western Maine final six times. In 1992, South Portland won the Class A state title with an epic five-overtime win over Bangor at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

The next season, the Red Riots won the West again, but lost in a rematch to Bangor at the Bangor Auditorium.

“For 17 years, I had some great teams and some great players at South Portland,” said DiBiase.

DiBiase’s contract to coach basketball at South Portland wasn’t renewed by the school’s administration in June of 2007.

DiBiase has stayed active in basketball, serving as an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s College for Rob Sanicola for the past three years, but discovered he preferred the high school level.

“I had three great years at St. Joe’s and really enjoyed my time there with Coach Sanicola, but I knew my heart was really into high school coaching,” said DiBiase. “I feel I relate best to high school kids. I enjoy that age group and feel I can make more of an impact. I feel my niche is at that level.”

DiBiase said it will be a challenge at G-NG, but one he looks forward to.

The boys’ program has struggled for years. Last year, the team missed the tournament with an 8-10 record.

“It’s going to take work,” said DiBiase. “I’ve taken over all kinds of programs and it’s been my experience that very few things are set. There are always issues to deal with.

“Probably, the easiest job I had starting out was my first coaching job at Machias. I walked into a program with four returning starters.”

After Machias, the former Westbrook High three-sport standout and University of Maine baseball standout coached at Noble, Gorham and Portland prior to South Portland. DiBiase also won state titles at Gorham (Class B in 1982) and Portland (1986).

“At Gorham, there was no summer basketball program. At South Portland, the program was already set up with the infrastructure in place, but there were other issues to deal with. It could be style of play, relationship with players or something else. Gray-New Gloucester is not the first situation where I’ve been asked to turn the program around. In any situation, you have to have the support of the players, the administration and the community. If you don’t then what you’re doing is not going to work.

“People at Gray-New Gloucester are very committed to getting the program turned around. They want the basketball program revamped from (kindergarten) all the way to high school.”

DiBiase is looking to book summer league games, but said most teams’ schedules are full already.

He has some team camps that the Patriots can play in this summer.

“It might be more beneficial for us just to practice and work on drills. It will give me a chance to get to know the players and for the players to get to know me,” he said. “I’m under no illusions in what I’m getting into. I know the team has two starters back. They had a very competitive team that lost a lot of tough games in the fourth quarter. I’m looking forward to playing as fast a tempo as we can.

“We will press and take advantage of mismatches as much as we can. We’re going to force the tempo. I’m looking forward to making Gray-New Gloucester a playoff contender.”

DiBiase teaches physical education at South Portland High and is the school’s longtime baseball coach.

“We’re extremely excited to have Tony aboard,” said G-NG athletic administrator Melanie Craig. “He’s a well-seasoned coach. We feel Tony can take us to the next level.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]