The Westbrook football team hasn’t had a winning season since 1978. A more recent concern has been the high rate of turnover for head coaches. The Blue Blazes have had three in the past four years.

So when Daryle Weiss left Westbrook after one season to take a job as an assistant at Bates College – “One of his lifelong dreams was to be a college coach,” said Blue Blazes athletic director Todd Sampson – finding someone who planned to stick around to establish a program became an important factor in hiring the next coach.

That’s one of the reasons Westbrook went in-house to tab Jeff Guerette as the new head coach. Guerette, 29, doesn’t have any prior varsity head coaching experience, but he’s been an assistant at Westbrook the past four seasons and teaches social studies at the high school, so he knows the players, the school and the city. And he knows that erasing Westbrook’s sub-par past on the gridiron starts with the establishment of a long-term plan to put a cohesive program in place.

“I want to bring some continuity and some stability to the program so that we can raise expectations and hopefully make ourselves into a very good football program,” Guerette said. “I think we need continuity within the program and that starts at the top and filters all the way down through the junior high school and the youth league programs, so that we’re all doing the same thing, program wide.”

While Sampson said that creating continuity was an integral element in hiring Guerette, there was more that set him apart from other potential choices.

“The thing that Jeff brings is he’s a winner,” Sampson said.

Before earning a master’s degree in social studies education from the University of Maine and a bachelor’s from Colby College, Guerette graduated from Bangor High School (class of 1997), where he played basketball for longtime coach Roger Reed and football for Gabby Price, now the head coach at Husson College. The Rams won two state titles in basketball and an Eastern Maine A championship in football during Guerette’s four years.

Before coming to Westbrook, Guerette worked as an assistant for Price at Husson.

“The biggest thing I got from Coach Price was the value of a great relationship between a player and coach, and how a great relationship can make you want to play hard for that coach,” said Guerette, who intended to play football in college but broke his leg during his senior year of high school. “The other big thing is once a program is up and established, the idea that there are very high expectations within that program.”

For traditional football powers like Bangor and Biddeford, and recent Western Maine A champions Gorham and Bonny Eagle, the expectations are to be at the top every season. The culture within the programs is one of winning and expecting to win. Guerette hopes to bring that to Westbrook.

“It’s like a Catch-22 for me,” he said. “You want to feel like you’re going to win but in order to do that, you have to start winning. Once you start winning, then you’ll feel like you’re going to win every game.”

Sampson is confident that Guerette can raise expectations based on what he’s seen him accomplish both on the sidelines and in the classroom.

“He’s intelligent, he’s bright, he connects with kid and he’s a great motivator – and not only for the kids, but I think for his staff as well,” Sampson said.

That Bonny Eagle and Gorham have built top-notch football programs in just the past few years – Bonny Eagle has won three of the last four state titles with Gorham winning the West in 2006 – shows that a solid program can be established in a relatively short amount of time.

“Those are definitely models for me,” Guerette said. “When I was coaching a JV game at Gorham last year, I looked over and I saw fourth graders running the double-wing offense. By the time those kids are in high school, they’re very comfortable with that system. And Bonny Eagle has a great feeder program as well.”

Guerette plans to keep Weiss’s shotgun, no huddle, spread offense in place.

“I think that will bring us some continuity from last year, which is good because we won’t be learning something all new,” Guerette said. “I also know the kids love that offense. I think it’s a great way to get kids excited about football. We put our best athletes against your best athletes, spread people out and try to make plays that way.”

There were rumors that Weiss planned to install the innovative and controversial A-11 offense at Westbrook this season, but Guerette said he does not intend to do so. The scheme allows all 11 offensive players to be eligible receivers by lining up in what resembles a punt formation.

Guerette said he’d rather stick with a base offense and get good at it than institute a new system.

“(The A-11) is not for me right now,” he said. “I just don’t know enough about it yet. It seems pretty intricate. I’m sure someone will run it in the state of Maine this year, but it’s not going to be us.”

Westbrook graduated more than a dozen seniors from last year’s 3-5 squad, but has some experienced players returning. What Guerette would like to see is the overall number of players coming out for football increase.

“We have some very talented players, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having more depth in the program. Football is unique because you need to have 11 players to make a successful football play.”

Westbrook is at a disadvantage from a pure numbers standpoint, as the school has several hundred fewer students than some others in the SMAA, which makes fielding a large team more difficult.

“We usually have about 35 guys on the varsity team,” Guerette said. “I’d like to have that number up around 45 or 50 – that’s a much easier number to practice with and it’s a much easier number to play with.”

While beefing up the number of players on the roster may occur gradually, Guerette has seen how quickly fan support can multiply. A big win or two can create quite a buzz.

“Last year after we beat Portland, we had a huge crowd for when we played Deering,” he said. “People were excited. It’s just a matter of capturing that excitement, and certainly building off what our baseball team did this spring.”

Guerette knows he isn’t going to reverse 30 years of mediocrity (or, in some seasons, considerably worse) before the 2008 opener. He also knows that focusing on three decades of futility isn’t going help matters any.

“We’re not going to get better by talking about how long it’s been since we’ve had a winning season,” he said. “For us it’s important for us to improve each day. I’m looking forward to the challenge. There are great kids here. That’s the biggest draw for me. They’re a bunch of great kids who want to win football games. I think if we go about doing things the right way, we can make that happen.”

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