Lewiston High School head coach Bruce Nicholas runs practice during the first day of football practice in 2017. (Sun Journal file photo)

Bruce Nicholas has been fired after four seasons as Lewiston’s football coach.

Nicholas said he was informed of the move by athletic director Jason Fuller last Friday.

“He met with me like he does informally every year and the first thing he said to me was, ‘It’s time for a change,’” Nicholas said. “I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that, but then he went on to say they’d like to change the head coach and they needed a change in the direction the program was going.”

“It was kind of a shock to me,” Nicholas said. “I didn’t have really any warning. There were no evaluations that said I was doing anything that wasn’t good.”

Nicholas compiled a 10-26 record with the Blue Devils. Lewiston’s best season was 2017, when it went 4-5 and earned the second seed in the A North playoffs. The Blue Devils lost in the regional quarterfinals that year and each of the four years of Nicholas’ tenure.

Nicholas, who teaches math at Lewiston High School, said he requested a meeting with principal Jake Langlais and also had a third meeting with Langlais and Fuller at their request.

“I was shocked and I didn’t really think it was the way to deal with someone who has been teaching for 35 years and coaching for 35,” Nicholas said. “Now you’re going to just say I’m fired. Why didn’t you call me in and tell there were some things that maybe I needed to work on?”

“I was told that it wasn’t about winning and losing. The culture of the program. This is what the principal told me: they didn’t like the culture of the program,” Nicholas said. “I guess one of the things they were not pleased with was lack of numbers.”

Lewiston had 35 players listed on its roster this season. The school’s enrollment is 1,428 according to the Maine Principals’ Association football bulletin.

Nicholas said he believed the program was going in the right direction after the 2017 season, but cited a difficult schedule, which included crossover games against Class A champion Thornton Academy and A South regional finalist Scarborough, that set the Blue Devils back in the standings.

Lewiston started the season 0-4, won back-to-back games against Bangor and Windham, lost to Scarborough, then lost in the late stages of back-to-back games at rival Edward Little, 26-22 in the final week of the regular season and 18-13 in the regional quarterfinals.

“I said (during meetings with administration), ‘If we won the last two Edward Little games, which we were minutes away from doing, would we be having this conversation right now?’” Nicholas said.

Fuller declined to comment on the reasons behind the change, saying it was a personnel matter.

“I will say that I appreciate his service here,” Fuller said. “He has a true passion for the game of football and he cares greatly about the kids that he works with.”

Fuller said the position would be posted as soon as possible and that he hoped to find a replacement quickly.

Nicholas joined Bill County’s staff at Lewiston in 2012, then succeeded him as head coach in 2015 when County retired.

He acknowledged numbers had declined at Lewiston during his tenure, but added “there are a lack of numbers across the state in football. I don’t think I did anything to cause a lack of numbers.”

Nicholas said battling against negativity from fans affected his ability to improve the culture and affected him and his family personally.

“The culture of Lewiston football, even before I got there it was, to be quite honest, was kind of strange,” he said. “If you’ve ever gone to one of our games and sat in the crowd, they’re not very supportive.”

“My son, daughter, parents, my wife, had to sit in the crowd for the last four, five or six years, and I’m glad they don’t have to do that anymore, to tell you the truth,” he said. “They came home crying at times. They came home shaking. When their dad is being yelled at in the stands … ‘Fire the coach. Fire the coach,’ and you’re in overtime against Portland, it’s kind of strange. I’m not going to miss part of it, to tell you the truth.”

Prior to Lewiston, Nicholas, 59, taught at Oak Hill for 25 years and also coached football and boys’ basketball there. He has also served as an assistant coach in both sports at several other schools.

A Winslow native, Nicholas said he isn’t sure if he will return to coaching but wouldn’t rule it out in either sport.

“Who knows? I might go coach a junior high basketball team some day,” he said. “There are a lot of things that I can do to connect with sports.”