HALLOWELL — Gary Crocker is not an avid fan of the NBA, doesn’t pay much attention to the Philadelphia 76ers and hasn’t met Brett Brown.
No matter. Crocker believes Brown will be successful as the 76ers’ next coach simply because of his place of birth. Brown is a Mainah. ‘Nuff said.
“Mainahs know how to get things done,” said Crocker. “It’s part of our DNA from the time more of us were loggers and lobstermen. How old is Brown, 54? He knows. He’s closer to it than someone younger.”
Crocker is a Maine humorist in the manner of Tim Sample and the late Marshall Dodge. A teller of stories about Mainahs. He’s an educated man but his learning hasn’t all come from books.
“People ask me where I get my stories. I watch my neighbors for 20 minutes.”
Crocker is my neighbor from down the road in West Gardiner. He sat at my kitchen table Monday afternoon and for 20 minutes I told him about Brown, the South Portland native.
Brown will be the second Mainah to become a new NBA head coach next season. Steve Clifford of Lincoln got his job with the Charlotte Hornets months ago.
Several Mainahs are or were crew chiefs in Sprint Cup racing, NASCAR’s top series. Steve Letarte, once with Jeff Gordon, now with Dale Earnhardt Jr., is one. Slugger Labbe (Michael Waltrip, Kenny Irwin, Dale Jarrett, Paul Menard) is another. Pete Rondeau (formerly with Earnhardt Jr. and Regan Smith) is a third.
Stump Merrill managed the New York Yankees (1990, 1991); Dick MacPherson was head coach of the New England Patriots at about the same time.
Their work ethic and ingenuity, two particular traits of Mainahs, were prized. Even if their to-the-point, blunt honesty landed them in hot water.
“If you’re a logger deep in the Maine woods, you’ve got to be crystal clear how that tall pine is coming down and where’s it’s falling,” said Crocker. “If you’re hauling lobster traps and the wind’s coming up you’ve got to be crystal clear what you’re doing and what you’re telling your crew.”
Crocker looked me in the eye. He hadn’t yet talked about tenaciousness.
“Grandpa Beals was sitting on his porch after a long Maine winter, the snowmelt and the early spring rains. He looked at his unpaved road and saw a hat moving.
“He watched until it reached his mailbox. A hand appeared through the mud, reaching up to deliver the mail.
” ‘Rough going,’ Grandpa called out ‘I’m OK,’ said the mailman. ‘It’s the horse beneath me who’s having a rough time.’ “
Brett Brown’s father wasn’t a logger or a lobsterman or a mailman. Bob Brown was one of Maine’s more successful basketball coaches. To Crocker the job you had isn’t as important as your genetic makeup. You’re a Mainah.
“Mainahs don’t want the glitz or the glory,” said Crocker. “It’s not about that. You pull someone out the ditch, you don’t want money.
“You hear about the fella from away who bragged to the lobsterman about how he’s been to Burma, been around the world? He asks the lobsterman what traveling he’s done.
“Didn’t have to. I was born heah.”
What does this have to do with Brett Brown and a job as head coach of the 76ers? Everything. Whether Brown is conscious of it or not, Crocker believes he’ll continue to look at the people around him through a Mainah’s eyes.
“You build your own team,” said Crocker. “That’s how we survive our Maine winters. You live on a dirt road, you’ve got to build that team before the wind is howling and the snow is piling up. Mainahs help each other. We trust each other.
“I’d rather be the guy who bought the Brooklyn bridge than the one who sold it.”
Crocker will be 66 soon. He keeps cans of Moxie soda on ice for visitors. He calls himself a duct tape innovator.
He threw a birthday party for his wife last month. About 30 guests showed up, including Sen. Angus King and Rep. Mike Michaud.
Why? Because they’re Mainahs. And yes, they’ve listened to Crocker before.
“Coaches make a difference,” said Crocker. “Mainahs find a way to make a difference. Brett Brown will, too. It’s what we do.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at [email protected]