After every football season, Cheverus Coach John Wolfgram conducts an evaluation of his program and himself, in typical Wolfgram fashion.

“He takes his time doing it. He’s methodical and he’s meticulous,” Cheverus High Athletic Director Gary Hoyt said.

Wolfgram’s latest discernment produced a surprising announcement Monday. Wolfgram, 67, is retiring after 45 years of coaching. Wolfgram won 309 games and 10 state championships with four high schools.

“It was just time,” Wolfgram said Monday, minutes after informing Cheverus’ returning football players.

“Like I told the kids, there’s no perfect time to be done when you’ve been coaching for 45 years. But this is a good time.”

Wolfgram spoke from his Cheverus office, where his desk was covered with vocabulary workbooks, along with the Great Gatsby and selected poems from T.S. Eliot. He is staying at the school to continue teaching English.

“But football coaching is very consuming. It’s a 12-month-a-year job … I just want to reassess my priorities in life while I have my health.”

Hoyt said a search for Wolfgram’s replacement should begin next week. The void, obviously, is large because Wolfgram is one of the most esteemed coaches in Maine high school sports history.

“From a professional point of view, in my 43 years, I’ve known a lot of football coaches at a lot of different levels, and there’s no question in my mind that he is the best in this state at any level,” Hoyt said.

Wolfgram began coaching at Madison High in 1971. He won one Class C title in four years before moving onto Gardiner, where he won three Class B titles in 11 years. He taught at South Portland High for 20 years, coaching for 15 of them and winning four Class A titles, before joining the Bowdoin College football staff as an assistant.

He became head coach at Cheverus in 2006 and won two state championships with the Stags.

In 40 years as a head coach, Wolfgram’s overall record was 309-92-1.

“When you played a John Wolfgram-coached team, you better have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed, because he’s not going to make a mistake,” former Lawrence High coach Pete Cooper said. “And if you had any weaknesses, he’d find them.”

Wolfgram came from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to play football for the University of Maine. He stayed an extra year in Orono as a graduate assistant coach and then took the job at Madison. From there, Wolfgram joined a Gardiner staff that included another young coach, Norm Gagne, who coached the hockey team and helped with football.

“John’s teams were well disciplined and very confident in their game plan,” said Gagne, Maine’s winningest hockey coach with more than 700 career victories. “He was a master at getting his players to believe in each other, for the good of the team.”

Gagne, who has won seven hockey state titles and is now at Scarborough, said, “I took a lot of what I learned from him and applied it to my coaching.”

Beside the three football titles with Gardiner, Wolfgram filled in as softball coach in 1980 and led the Tigers to the state championship.

Many other coaches beside Gagne learned from Wolfgram. In 1993, when Mike Fallon learned he would be Sanford High’s head football coach, he visited two coaches – the late Mike Landry, who won seven state championships at Biddeford, and Wolfgram, who was then at South Portland.

“I’m sitting in John’s kitchen, asking him about being a coach, and picking his brain about the wing-T offense,” Fallon said. “He never wavered from what he did. He never got caught up in what was new and what everyone else was doing.”

Peter Gwilym ran that offense as a quarterback for Cheverus and won a state title in 2010.

“We ran about seven to nine base plays, but we practiced them a million times, to perfection,” said Gwilym, the 2010 Fitzpatrick Trophy winner as the state’s best senior football player. “I loved playing for him.”

To play for Wolfgram was to hear him talk intently, but without extra volume. He did not yell. He always taught.

Kevin Cooper, Pete’s son and the Bonny Eagle head coach, said Wolfgram “kept his offense and defense very simple, but his kids were always really prepared – so you knew you better be prepared.”

When Wolfgram was coaching a game, he sometimes paced the sideline, but he’d also stop and lean over with his hands on his knees, watching, analyzing and looking for another teaching moment.

Aaron Filieo, the Cape Elizabeth head coach, played for Wolfgram at South Portland, graduating in 1993. Filieo knew back then he wanted to coach.

“I was always watching (Wolfgram) with a close eye – I wanted to learn how the best coaches coach,” Filieo said. “I loved playing for him because he’s such a great guy. And he always put us in a position. His preparation was tremendous.

“As meticulous as he was in his preparation, the next step was transferring that into a bunch of young minds. That’s where his teaching came in.”

After playing for Wolfgram, Filieo eventually returned to South Portland as an assistant coach for four years. After that, “I really had everything I needed to pursue (a head coaching job).”

David Kahill, another former South Portland player and assistant coach, said Wolfgram’s “work ethic would spread to whoever was with him, players and coaches.”

But the coach is finally leaving the work to someone else.

“I just tried to reflect on it and thought about it for a long time,” Wolfgram said. “Everything has a shelf life, a beginning and an end. You know when it’s time.”


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