BIDDEFORD — As a basketball coach, Ron Cote always urged his players to give their best every day, whether in practice or in a game. When health issues limited his ability to do that anymore, Cote knew it was time to stop coaching.
One of the state’s most respected coaches, Cote resigned a little more than a week as Scarborough High girls’ basketball coach after one season, ending a coaching career that began in 1973 in Old Town and including a lengthy stay at Biddeford, where he coached both boys’ and girls’ teams.
“This is not the way I wanted it to end,” said Cote. “I had planned on staying on at Scarborough for a little while, anyway. I really enjoyed the season. It was a great year.”
But while this past winter was successful on the basketball court for the Red Storm, with a 16-4 record, it was very stressful for Cote.
Cote had resigned as the girls’ coach at Biddeford in 2010 after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The treatment included surgery to remove the polyps. He regained enough energy to return to coaching two years ago, as an assistant at Cheverus. The desire to run his own team was strong, so he took the Scarborough job last October after Tom Maines resigned.
Early in the season he was involved in a car accident that required him to go through physical therapy for five weeks. Then, during one of his regular every-three-months cancer check-ups, spots were found on his bladder.
Cote, 63, had surgery to remove them, and he missed a game at Kennebunk on Jan. 21. He missed a day of practice as well, then returned.
Cote was fatigued at the end of the season and lacked energy, thinking it was because of the stress of the season. But a week later, Cote awoke one morning in extreme pain. He was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica, a painful inflammatory condition that affects the neck, shoulders and hips. That, said Cote, was when he knew he would not be able to continue coaching.
“I try to do things 100 percent,” said Cote, who also coached the University of New England men’s team for seven seasons. “I don’t think right now I could be effective. If I can’t do the job the way I think it should be done, then it’s best that I’m not a head coach.”
So he resigned, reluctantly. “It was hard to walk away,” he said. “I was just getting used to Scarborough, just starting to get comfortable.
“I hated to leave this way. The administration, the community, the parents, they all supported me. The kids were great. I enjoyed everything there.”
Mike LeGage, the athletic director at Scarborough who must now find his fourth girls’ basketball coach in four seasons, certainly understood.
“Coach Cote was an outstanding addition to our athletic family of coaches,” wrote LeGage in an email. “He is a true gentleman and a remarkable coach and leader with a great basketball mind We feel so fortunate to have had him for the time we did.”
Don Briggs, the president of the Scarborough boosters, said Cote will be difficult to replace. “Those guys don’t just fall out of trees,” he said.
But Briggs, who played for Cote at Biddeford and coached with him at UNE, said this was the only decision to make.
“He’s a person I have a lot of feelings for,” said Briggs, whose daughter Ashley is a sophomore at Scarborough. “I think this is the right decision for him, his family, and for everything he wants to do.”
Mike Giordano, the girls’ coach at South Portland, said Cote’s departure is a loss for everyone, not just Scarborough.
“He has so much to offer the kids,” said Giordano. “It’s a loss for the game, it’s a loss for the community. He’s not just an Xs and Os coach, but a life lesson coach.”
Cote hopes to continue in some way. He wants to offer individual lessons to players, as he did for years with Andrew Shaw, the former Thornton Academy star who now plays at Bentley University. He also wants to help coaches who would like his advice. Cote said he has already spoken to a couple coaches who wanted to learn more about the match-up zone defense and flex offense that he has employed — very successfully — over 36 years.
“That’s the kind of stuff I enjoy doing,” said Cote.
Cote took the Scarborough job knowing the program’s recent history. He was following Jim Seavey and Maines, two highly-successful coaches who left for personal reasons, Maines after just one year. “I didn’t go there intending to be a short time,” said Cote. “But I needed to relieve stress from my life and try to take care of myself.
“You know, my whole career has been about helping other people. I think my body is telling me something, to take care of myself.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: