Joe Rafferty was disconsolate. A year after graduating from Springfield College, the 23-year-old from Woburn, Massachusetts, had just found out that funding for his first full-time teaching/coaching job had fallen through. He wouldn’t be working in nearby Foxborough after all.

“This was late July, early August of (1978). I came home with my tail between my legs and my dad says, ‘I don’t know where it is but you just got a call from Kenna-buck, Maine,’ ” Rafferty recalled. “I had never been to Maine. Had never been over the bridge. I came up on a Monday for an interview and stayed.”

Rafferty is still at Kennebunk High, celebrating his 40th season as the Rams’ head football coach with a team shaping up to be one of his best. Kennebunk is 4-0 and has outscored opponents, 221-19. The Rams are loaded with playmaking seniors who had important roles for the 2016 team that lost in the Class B final, intent on delivering Rafferty a second state championship this fall.

“They would love nothing more than to win it for him,” said Kennebunk assistant coach Joe Bush, who played on Rafferty’s first team in 1979 and is the father of the three-year starting quarterback, Tripp Bush. “It’s not even about them. They love him.”

Rafferty reciprocates the feeling.

“I want it for my players. Because I’ve experienced it,” he said. “I want it for them because I want them to have that feeling and that memory.”

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Rafferty, 63, is the longest-tenured active head football coach in Maine. He doesn’t have the most wins or most championships. Those honors belong to Mike Siviski at Winslow (265 wins and seven state titles in his 34th season).

Joe Rafferty has a career record of 190-173 at Kennebunk, but that includes a 10-year period when the Rams played Class A competition. Since then he’s 42-14.

But one would be hard-pressed to find a coach more respected and genuinely well-liked by his peers.

“I personally consider him a role model for what we would like all of our coaches to be through the state of Maine,” said Falmouth Coach John Fitzsimmons.

“He’s a guy I look up to,” said Wells Coach Tim Roche. “He’s a mentor in a lot of ways. Take away the wins and losses, and what he does for kids in Kennebunk is unreal.”

Rafferty’s career record is 190-173. His one state championship came in 1991. He’s taken Kennebunk to three other state title games, in 1999, 2013 and 2016.

When Rafferty took over after one year as an assistant coach and physical education teacher, he inherited a downtrodden program.

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“I remember the headline of an article at the time was ‘Rafferty commits coaching suicide.’ It was relative to the number of head coaches Kennebunk had turned over in the last decade,” Rafferty said.

He said there were a few times he wasn’t sure if his football job was secure, but he never defined his success solely by Kennebunk’s win-loss record.

“I think in terms of coaching, I think people look a lot closer at, ‘Is my son happy? Are they being treated well? Are they being taken care of?’ ” Rafferty said. “You know, wins and losses, some years you’re great and some years you’re not.”

Rafferty’s career record took a hit when Kennebunk played in Class A from 2003-12. The Rams were 30-53 in those years.

But since returning to Class B, the Rams have had the best run of Rafferty’s career, going 42-14, including 11-1 seasons in 2013 and ’16. While roster sizes shrink at schools across the state, Kennebunk’s has grown.

Kennebunk Rams football coach Joe Rafferty watches players as they work through a kickoff and return drill.

“I think he always believes football is a lot more than a game, and it’s a lot like life and that’s definitely the message that he wants people to leave our program with,” said Brian Dill, also in his 40th year as a Kennebunk assistant. “He wants our kids to understand there’s going to be some hard things, you’re going to get knocked down sometimes, but can you get back up?”

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“He wants to win but it’s more than winning with him,” said Zack Sullivan, Kennebunk’s standout senior wide receiver. “Anything he does, he just wants to build a connection with the kids, with the coaches, the town even.”

Rafferty is in his first year of retirement as a teacher. He admits he’s “a little nervous,” about losing the daily connection with students and considered retiring from coaching.

“I just wasn’t ready. I’m still passionate about coaching every day,” Rafferty said. “When it starts to fade a little bit, and it did in the classroom, I can’t do that. That’s not fair for me to do that to the kids or the community.”

Those who know him think Rafferty’s coaching retirement is still years away.

“It’s never dull with him,” said Tripp Bush. “He always has something new, some kind of motivation for us. I just think he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to deal with players. He knows our age group.”

Just as he did 40, or 30, or 20 years ago.

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Jamie Cook was a two-way starter and kicker as a sophomore on Kennebunk’s 1991 title team. Cook said he knew Rafferty “cared more about me as a person than as an athlete.”

Coach Joe Rafferty watches players run through a blocking drill.

Now the director of track and field and men’s head track coach at the Naval Academy, Cook stopped by the Kennebunk weight room this summer to visit his old coach.

“He’s relevant right now. It seems like the kids love him,” Cook said. “I try to keep tabs. I know this year’s team is a really talented team. Hopefully they can give him another Gold Ball.”

It would be a fitting finale to Rafferty’s 40th season, even if the coach himself doesn’t think his longevity is particularly special.

“There’s guys that have been working at the turnpike for 40 years, or working downtown in some garage for that long. There’s just a little more visibility to what I’m doing,” Rafferty said.

“I don’t look at it as a huge milestone. I went to college to be a coach and a teacher, and that’s what I did. I’m just lucky that I love what I’m doing.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig


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