LEWISTON — Most of the Leavitt Area High School football community was satisfied with Doug Conn’s self-appointed successor prior to the 1992 season.

Hard to believe now, but one principal and assistant superintendent in the system balked ever-so-slightly at the nomination of Bill County.

“When I first got hired, one of the knocks was, ‘I think Bill’s too nice a guy. I’m not sure he’s going to be tough enough to get this job done.’ That was interesting to hear,” County said.

You know what else is nice? Winning the Gold Ball emblematic of Maine’s state champion, and doing so with disarming class.

County needed only four seasons at Leavitt to collect his first Class B title, and three more to win the next one.

That success precipitated a move to Class A Lewiston, where his rapport with kids and wizardry for delegating authority transformed a struggling program into a consistent winner.


At this summer’s first practice, County, 56, stood in front of the Blue Devils and confirmed a decision with which he’d made peace months earlier — that this 15th season at the helm, and 23rd overall as a head coach, will be his last.

“I probably decided right around Christmastime for the most part. The big thing was do I tell people before or after. I got a lot of advice from people like Frank Knight at Waterville, who got out for pretty much the same reasons I am,” County said. “My son Tyler is going to graduate this year. And you get a little tired. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Long enough to make an impact on two generations of athletes in a rapidly changing world that needs more teachers, coaches and men of his caliber.

“He’s helped me through a lot more than just football,” Lewiston quarterback Quintarian Brown said. “Not having a dad at the house, just growing up with my mom, he’s like another father I can come to.”

Learning the trade

County played football at Edward Little High School and Bridgton Academy before graduating from the University of Maine.


He was fresh out of college, not yet employed in education, when Maranacook coach Fred Royer brought him on board as an assistant in 1981.

“Coming out of college, not being a player in college, I think you need to have an in somewhere,” County said. “You need somebody who will let you volunteer and get some experience. That was a great break for me.”

For a seven-year period of the 1980s, County returned to his Auburn roots, working on Don Morency’s staff with the recreational program.

It’s where the wheels began turning toward County’s future as a head coach, and when he discovered that the game was evolving far beyond the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust sensibilities of his youth.

“I learned more from Don and with Don. It taught me so much about what kids are capable of,” County said. “That playbook was as big as the playbook I use now. It was really an education about, wow, these kids really can learn this stuff.”

Building the dynasty


County’s career as a health teacher began in Turner, where Conn brought him on board as an assistant. It was a time of transition at Leavitt, with the installation of “Friday Night Lights” at the forefront of a large school expansion project.

The Hornets also were making a tough transition from the all-Class C, original Mountain Valley Conference to the Class B division of the newly branded Campbell Conference. There was a budding rivalry with a new, consolidated school dubbed Mountain Valley. The quarterback was an aspiring coach named Mike Hathaway.

“Doug was so much fun to coach for. He’s such a character. You love the guy,” County said. “When he was waiting to get done, we were sitting in an office just like this, and he said, ‘I’m really comfortable with you taking over.’ It really took me by surprise. I said, ‘You really think I can do this?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you’re the guy.’”

Leavitt made a modest gain from two wins in Conn’s farewell season to 3-5 in County’s debut. Back-to-back playoff appearances followed, setting the table for the first of two undefeated state championship teams in four years.

Halfback Jim Ray, quarterback Matt Addition and defensive stalwart Marty Beale led the Hornets to the 1995 title. Current defensive coordinator Chris Gray, who has collaborated with Hathaway for two state championships in the past five years, was on the team. Fittingly, the state final was played at Walton Field in Auburn, where a younger County both played and coached.

The Hornets rode workhorse back Jeff Dube to a win over Hampden in the 1998 Class B final at Oxford Hills.


“The two things that I think the most about are the assistant coaches I’ve had, the men I’ve worked with, some of them who went on to become principals and superintendents, and the kids,” County said. “You go to the balloon festival and I have a hard time sorting things out. ‘Were you a Leavitt kid? Were you a Lewiston kid?’ The first thing I’ll say is ‘What year did you graduate?’ That always clues me in.”

Turning the page

County made the move in 2000, inheriting a Lewiston program that had fallen far from its place as a Class A power in the mid-1980s.

Respectability was almost immediate. Playoff appearances, special teams excellence and a lengthy run of game-breaking tailbacks are the on-field earmarks of County’s Lewiston legacy.

Jared Turcotte’s exploits became the stuff of legend on his way to the 2006 Fitzpatrick Trophy and a brief but sensational career at the University of Maine. County also will go down in state gridiron lore for his riverboat gambler moment — going for the first down on fourth-and-inches from his own 10-yard line while nursing a late lead in the 2010 Pine Tree Conference final.

Bangor made the stop, subsequently scored a touchdown and advanced to states.


But County’s greatest achievements at Lewiston — a school with a diverse community and athletes from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum — arguably have been the unseen ones.

“Football being the sport I love, he guides me through it on the field and then off the field by making sure my grades are OK,” Brown said. “He cares about all of us just like a dad would.”

Passing the torch

Away from football, County is father to a large, blended family, and the added year-round responsibilities of shepherding his extended football family admittedly have taken their toll.

During the 2012 season, County was stricken with a transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini-stroke. Although the debilitating effects disappear in a matter of minutes or hours, and the patient returns to full function, it is considered a warning sign.

County missed only two practices and no games. He didn’t want to quit before that season, he said, because the team was heavy with sophomores in the starting lineup.


“It wouldn’t have been fair. The guy who took over would have been in a bad spot. I’m not sure we’re great this year, but we’re good, we’re solid, we’re going to play well. I think whoever takes over is going to have a good crew,” County said.

Once a coach, always a coach, of course. County stopped well short of calling his impending departure a retirement.

For inspiration, he looks at his own staff and sees freshman coach Dick Collins, winner of back-to-back titles and 20 consecutive games at Telstar in the early 1970s. Also, Dick Leavitt, who rebuilt the Brunswick program and has been entrenched ever since as an assistant at Lewiston, shouting instructions from a golf cart and overcoming his own medical challenges.

“I don’t think football is in my past. I think I’m going to take a year or two off, and then I may come back. I want to do something where I’m not answering the phone, not talking to the press. Those are all good things and they’re all great people, but I’m tired,” County said. “It will be good for the system to get a little new blood. I’m not saying that I’m old and gray and need to go, but the same thing happened at Leavitt. I had a great program going there, and I think it was time for me to go.”

No matter how deep they venture into the playoffs, County called this year’s Blue Devils one of his best in terms of citizenship and respect. Undoubtedly they’re a reflection of a leader who once was deemed too gentlemanly for this sort of work.

The words were professional motivation, of course, but County can look back and laugh.

“I find a (jerk) on my staff all the time,” he said. “You can always get a guy to play the other role.”

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