Joanne P. McCallie stepped down as Duke University’s women’s basketball coach in July after 13 seasons with the program. The former UMaine coach and Brunswick High player has written a book due out in February, “Secret Warrior,” in which she talks about her battle with bipolar disorder. Sean Rayford/Associated Press

When Joanne P. McCallie wrote her first book, “Choice not Chance,” in 2012, Amy Vachon, one of her former players and the current women’s basketball head coach at the University of Maine, told her it was a good book, but that something was missing.

“I said, ‘Yup, you’re probably right about that,’ ” said McCallie, the former UMaine coach who retired in July from Duke University after 28 years as a head coach. “But there was no further discussion.”

McCallie, a 1983 Brunswick High graduate who coached the UMaine women’s team for eight seasons from 1992-2000, took care of that omission.

Her latest book, “Secret Warrior,” is due out on Feb. 16. This book is a memoir detailing how McCallie’s life changed when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 25 years ago. She was 30, mother to a 1-year-old, in her fourth year as a head coach at UMaine, and fearful that she would lose her job.

She has never spoken publicly about her mental health, her diagnosis known only to family, close friends and a few of her players.

“I’ve waited a long time to write this book,” said McCallie. “And I finally got to a space where I felt I could write it.”


Photo courtesy Koehler Books

In the introduction to the book, which is subtitled, “A Coach & Fighter, On and Off the Court,” McCallie writes:

“I have always wondered when would be the right time to share the story of my affliction with bipolar disorder in a way that I could motivate, inspire, and also raise awareness – and truth – about mental illness and all the attached stigmas that come with the imbalanced brain. I have chosen this moment to reflect and reveal my private battle with mental illness to show that those afflicted can be successful, productive, and happy.”

McCallie, 55, has certainly been successful and productive in her coaching career, compiling a record of 646-255. She was named national coach of the year in 2005 after leading Michigan State to the national championship game – five years after taking over the program. In eight years at Maine, she had a record of 167-73 that included the school’s only NCAA tournament win, 60-58 over Stanford in 1999.

McCallie said her book is for everyone, especially those who suffer with mental health issues.

“This is meant to be an outreach,” she said, adding that once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, she hopes to travel for book signings and motivational talks. “I’m trying to build a foundation.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 2.8 percent of American adults were affected by bipolar disorder in the past year. An estimated 4.4 percent of American adults experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. It is characterized by dramatic shifts in behavior, from manic to depression, and usually surfaces during adolescence or early adulthood.


When the pandemic first hit and college sports were shut down in March, coaches were unable to travel anywhere. Alone, at home, McCallie began writing.

“I had it done by May,” she said. After that, it was a matter of finding a publisher willing to print the book. Koehler Books picked it up. And now McCallie is stepping into her newest career, that of an author.

She is deep into social media promoting it – her Twitter handle is @coachP4life – and supplies a trailer to the book. In that trailer, she speaks about her first manic episode.

She was on the phone with a recruit, Jamie Cassidy, with the television on in the background. “I began to tell Jamie that the people on the TV were talking to us,” said McCallie. “Jamie, she laughed and said, ‘Coach, what are you talking about?’ ”

Cassidy, now 42 and a special education teacher for seventh- and eighth-graders in Everett, Massachusetts, remembers that night. She got off the phone and mentioned the conversation to her mother. “And then I tried to justify what she said by saying, ‘Well, she really works hard and watches so much film, maybe she thought the TV was talking to her,'” said Cassidy. “I’m that type of person.”

Cassidy still went to Maine because she wanted to play for McCallie. “I was recruited by a lot of coaches and Coach P was one of the best I ever encountered,” said Cassidy. “She was exciting to play for, a great motivator. I can remember that every time I went to meet with Coach P in her office, I would walk out of that meeting  and couldn’t wait to play in the next game or next practice.”


That night after talking with Cassidy, about 11 p.m., McCallie called her sister, Carolyn Clement. After the two spoke, Clement got in her car and drove to Orono from Falmouth.

“I knew something was not right,” said Clement, who is four years younger than McCallie. “There were a lot of irrational thoughts. And she hadn’t slept.”

During her eight seasons as coach of the UMaine women’s basketball team, Joanne P. McCallie coached two future UMaine head coaches – Cindy Blodgett, far right, and Amy Vachon, second from right. David MacDonald/Staff file photo

Clement and John McCallie – Joanne’s husband, who McCallie calls the hero of the book for all the sacrifices he made – made plans for her to see a doctor the next day. That’s when she got the bipolar disorder diagnosis.

She needed to take time off and received a two-week leave of absence from the university, the reason given being exhaustion. She didn’t tell many people about her diagnosis.

“Twenty-five years ago, the stigma around mental illness was severe,” she said. “I was not comfortable about talking about my diagnosis for fear of losing my job.”

There were a few players who knew about her condition and, said McCallie, that is an underlying theme in the book.


“The book is about loyalty, some Maine teams sticking by a coach despite a lot of unknowns,” she said.

McCallie said players such as Cindy Blodgett, Steph Guidi, Cassidy and Vachon provided the support and leadership.

“They knew I had gone through something difficult, knew that it had taken me away for two weeks,” she said. “They also knew I was back and ready to go. They talked amongst themselves but didn’t demand to know what it was. They took it as Coach P was having a hard time and we’ve got to support her.”

Vachon said the players supported her as they would a teammate.

“We knew that there were things going on but we weren’t privy to the details of everything,” said Vachon. “With our program, and even today with any program, you try to keep people’s stuff private.”

Cassidy added, “She was our coach and obviously we all admired her and respected her and looked up to her. Although we were not certain what was going on, we knew something was going on. We were like a family. And you want to protect your family.”


McCallie said the players supported her by not talking about it to anyone.

“I don’t know if this would ever happen in these days,” she said. “They told their parents, ‘Relax, we’ve got this. This is our coach and we’re going to work with this.’ ”

McCallie would have one more episode at Maine, two years after the first, this one dealing with depression rather than manic behavior. It came during a game in which Maine lost by a large score. She became withdrawn and quiet. She said she had stopped taking her medication.

“I was being stubborn, not following what I needed to follow,” she said. “After, it began to dawn on me that I needed to listen to my doctors. I felt fine and thought I didn’t need the medication.”

She still takes her medication today. “You have to be careful and smart,” said McCallie. “I feel great.”

Her success at Maine catapulted her to Michigan State, then to Duke, all the time raising two children, Maddie and Jack. Her career has been marked by winning and coaching hard. At Duke she was investigated for mistreatment of players. She was cleared, but that incident affected her and the program.


“There were some people disgruntled with their situation,” said McCallie. “A small group making a lot of hay about things. I was a tough coach. I worked the team hard.

“I think the worst thing is that even though I was exonerated and given a new contract, the people who pushed it didn’t realize how much they hurt Duke and our recruiting. The kids who had verbally committed all ran. That was real significant.”

But, she said, her time at Maine helped her get through that situation.

“I think everything at Maine, whether on the court coaching, beating Alabama, Stanford, winning championships, suffering tough losses, my diagnosis … everything at Maine prepared me,” she said. “And made it easier.”

McCallie isn’t sure if she’ll ever coach again. “That’s wide open, really,” she said. “It’s hard to know what the future brings. But I can say this, I’ll always be Coach P for life.”

For now, she’s concentrating on getting her book out and helping those who may be suffering from bipolar condition, to become, as she says in her trailer, “the best you you can ever be.”


The book can be preordered on Amazon, the Barnes & Noble website or at

“I’m not an expert and I’m not trying to be one,” said McCallie. “There are too many mental health conditions. I’m just trying to talk about bipolar and what my experience has been and how it can help students, athletes, parents, teachers.”

Both Vachon and Cassidy said they were proud McCallie was finally revealing her secret and hope that she can become a role model for others suffering from bipolar disorder.

“What more motivation do you need than to see someone be so successful while struggling with this mental illness that affects so many people so much that they can’t do their job,” said Cassidy.

“I’ve told her how proud I am that she’s coming out with this book,” said Vachon. “When she wrote the first book I always thought she had so much more to give.”

Her sister believes McCallie has much to offer.

“It’s been a long time coming and I knew it would come,” said Clement. “She has always wanted to help people with mental illness and be the survivor story and show you can be successful.”

Comments are not available on this story.