Portland High has promoted assistant coach Jason McLeod as its new varsity football coach, Athletic Director Rob O’Leary announced Friday.

McLeod, 40, has been on the Bulldogs’ staff for three years, helping to direct the offense. He has two decades of coaching experience for several high schools, including two years as the head coach at Westbrook in 2005-06.

He said he’ll bring a wide-open offense to the Bulldogs and will strive to increase participation in the program.

“If you want to call it an air-raid offense, you can,” McLeod said. “What we’re trying to do is maximize the athletes in the school, some of whom are not playing football that we want to get out, and we’re already getting some traction with that.”

McLeod replaces Jim Hartman, who announced his retirement in November after seven seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach. Portland won regional championships three of the last four years.

McLeod said he “jumped at (the job) as quickly as possible. I think it’s the right fit for me, I know all the returning players, and some of our staff will be back, namely Mike Rutherford, who is instrumental to our defense and is a teacher in the school.

“It’s a unique situation with the tradition and heritage of Portland High School football. Being a part of that the last three years, it’s something I want to continue to be a part of.”

McLeod was a paid assistant in 2016 and an unpaid consultant/coach the last two seasons.

“I worked for free because I enjoyed the culture so much and enjoyed the kids and coaching in the city of Portland and being at the Expo and Fitzpatrick Stadium,” he said.

McLeod’s hire is pending school board approval, which will take place before the start of the 2019-20 school year.

“He’s been here three years and shown he can do this,” O’Leary said.

McLeod’s approach on offense will get more players involved, O’Leary said. Like many programs in Maine, Portland’s participation numbers have declined in recent seasons despite the team’s success. Portland had 37 players listed on its 2018 roster. As recently as 2016, the program had 51 participants, according to Maine Principals’ Association data. Participation in the Portland youth tackle-football program decreased from 189 to 103 players over the last four years.

“I certainly think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth,” McLeod said. “If you walk around school, there’s the baseball player, the hockey player, the wrestler, and they’re not playing football. It’s not because of what Jim didn’t do. I just think we’re doing things a little different. You just have to re-engineer things and hit the reset.”

Hartman, who never hid the fact that he favored a power-running offense, expects McLeod to be successful.

“It’s a great choice, the best choice they could have made,” Hartman said. “He’s very bright, very organized, and the kids relate to him extremely well and he’s driven, very meticulous, all the markings of a good coach.”

McLeod is embarking on his 21st season as a coach. A 1996 graduate of Bonny Eagle, he was a 19-year-old college student on the first staff assembled by Kevin Cooper at Bonny Eagle, where he stayed for two seasons. After a year as a player/coach in Finland, McLeod coached at Westbrook for four seasons. He was the late Mike Landry’s offensive coordinator in 2003 and 2004, and was named the head coach when Landry underwent treatment for skin cancer. In two seasons, McLeod was 3-13 before he resigned in January 2017 at age 28.

“I took over when Mike Landry was stricken with melanoma,” McLeod said. “I became very close to him, and at the time I was named the head coach I was 25 and not ready for it, but there I was.”

McLeod became the offensive coordinator at Windham under Matt Perkins for eight seasons, helping Windham win the 2009 Class A title and 2014 Class A North crown.

McLeod and his wife, Holly, the parents of three children, live in Windham.

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