Lewiston coach Mike McGraw talks with his players during a game against Brunswick on Nov. 5, 2019. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — For the first time in 37 years, Mike McGraw’s mind didn’t automatically start preparing for next season.

“This time, I hesitated,” McGraw said.

So, next season, someone else will be leading the Lewiston boys soccer program after McGraw announced his retirement Monday.

“I didn’t get that sense that I want to charge back into it,” McGraw, who led the Blue Devils to three state championships, told the Sun Journal. “Because usually it doesn’t take that long to start making plans.

“Unless I’m 100 percent invested into it, I don’t feel that it’s the right thing to do. I’m not going to short-change my kids, I’m not going to short-change my school. I think it’s only fair if I can’t go 100 percent, I should drop back.”

The Blue Devils won state championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018. McGraw’s final team fell in the state title game to Falmouth last month.

The players were the first to hear of his decision to retire in a meeting Monday afternoon.

“I knew what I wanted to say,” McGraw said, “and I probably didn’t say it exactly the way I wanted to say it because I got myself back into coaching mode, talking to them about dealing with not having me as a coach, and to move on, do the things they have to do.”

Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller said the meeting was a special ending for McGraw.

“Credit to him: He announced it, I think there was a silence across the whole room,” Fuller said. “When he was done speaking, he said, ‘Guys, thank you,’ and then I watched 40-something guys walk by and every one of them shook his hand, gave him a hug, said thank you. That doesn’t happen all the time.

“It was a nice scene, and I think it speaks volumes to the person he is.”

McGraw also spent many years as a head coach or an assistant for Lewiston’s girls and boys basketball teams. Fuller is one of many coaches, teachers and administrators in the state, and beyond, who have been influenced by McGraw, who retired as a teacher last year.

“He coached with me, I played under him, I had him as a teacher. He’s played a huge part in my life,” Fuller said.

“I had him for science as a teacher,” Fuller added. “Played a huge role in me becoming a science teacher, just being around him. Then I worked with him for 10 years as a teacher, he was a mentor to me as a teacher.”

Fuller said he knew McGraw was considering retirement, but he was a bit surprised that it happened this offseason.

“I can’t thank Mike enough,” Fuller said. “He’s a legend around here, he’s a super human being. The school owes him a ton. Teacher for 42 years, with the boys soccer program for 43 years, 37 as the head coach. You just don’t hear those things. It’s a storied career.”

McGraw, who graduated from Lewiston High School, first played soccer in college at the University of Southern Maine.

“I had no intention of playing until a college roommate talked me into it,” McGraw said. “They didn’t have tackle football. I went there to play basketball and found out that I didn’t mind playing the game of soccer. I didn’t know how to play, I didn’t know all the rules, but I did know my role.”

After becoming a teacher at Lewiston High School, McGraw spent six seasons as an assistant to Paul Nadeau, who was the first coach of the Lewiston boys soccer program, before taking over the team in 1983.

“It’s been 43 falls of soccer since I started,” McGraw said, “and I wondered what it would be like not to do that in the fall.”

“I just want to see what that’s like,” McGraw added.

Lewiston head soccer coach Mike McGraw talks to a player on the sidelines during a soccer match in Lewiston in September. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

When he looks back at his four decades as a soccer coach, McGraw said he thinks about the incredible victories and the heart-breaking losses. He thinks about the special times he had working with his assistant coaches and competing against other coaches throughout the state.

More than anything, though, his mind goes to the players he’s been able to coach.

“That’s probably the most memorable thing is just the interaction with the different players,” McGraw said, “and there’s a flash of faces and personalities that seem to fly by too quickly to actually mention, and that was special.

“I think they gave me more than I gave them.”

Fuller said that one of McGraw’s greatest attributes was his ability to adapt.

Part of that was overseeing a shift in Lewiston’s soccer community with the addition of players whose families immigrated to Maine from several countries, which was chronicled in Amy Bass’ book, “One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together.”

“That was extremely special,” McGraw said, “to get some of these players from other countries that changed the game, and I had to change myself to become better at my job for them. That’s been so rewarding, getting to know them.

“But kids are kids, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from, because they’re still kids, and it was such an interesting evolution.”

Fuller said there wasn’t a better coach to oversee that evolution.

“I think he was the perfect guy for that program and the things we had to go through,” Fuller said. “That culture, that soccer community changed so much, and Mike was the perfect person to kind of take us to the next stage in the program’s history.

“Mike did it perfectly.”

Now that his autumns are wide open, McGraw said there are “a million things” he’ll do with his time, including spending more time with his wife, Rita, as well as working around the house and taking day trips he’s always wanted to take.

He’ll also take time to enjoy the season.

“To actually really look at the colors of the trees that change in the fall without being distracted by the next game,” he said. “Or maybe I will be, I don’t know. It’s going to be a new thing to me.”

Fuller said he will post the job later this week and hopes to fill it as soon as possible.

“It’s going to be sad to not see him on the sideline,” Fuller said.

Lewiston head coach Mike McGraw reacts following the Blue Devils’ win over Hampden Academy in the regional championship game in Lewiston in November 2015. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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